LONDON • Louis van Gaal is facing the biggest game of his Manchester United tenure - away to Liverpool on Sunday - with the Premier League club's hierarchy increasingly concerned about the prospect of being cut adrift in the race for the top four and essentially Champions League qualification.
Leicester City's 1-0 win over Tottenham on Wednesday kept United two points behind fourth-placed Spurs, but the London club could widen the gap by the time the Red Devils visit Anfield, as they play Sunderland tomorrow.
Defeat by Liverpool would present the gravest test yet of United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and club owners the Glazer family's faith in van Gaal.
Woodward urged van Gaal to carry on after defeats by Norwich City and Stoke City around the Christmas period left the United manager considering his position, and he is prepared to back the Dutchman in the transfer market this month.
Yet that patience will erode if there is a serious threat over the coming weeks to the club's minimum target of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
United's 3-3 draw at Newcastle on Tuesday extended the club's dismal run in the league to one win in eight matches.
After months of dour football, United finally provided some entertainment for fans, but that was offset by a poor defensive display and the loss of what van Gaal termed two "expensive points".
The Liverpool game is the first in a series of tricky fixtures that could have far-reaching repercussions for van Gaal's future.
After Liverpool, United will host Southampton and Stoke City before travelling to Stamford Bridge to play champions Chelsea.
THE TIMES, LONDON