Red Devils must stand up for LVG and themselves, says Richard Buxton
For the sake of LVG and their futures, United players must stand up and be counted
STOKE CITY v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 8.45pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Once considered to be football's elite managerial firefighter, Louis van Gaal now finds himself consumed by the flames.
His Manchester United reign continues to crash and burn in typically spectacular fashion.
The end appears increasingly nigh for the under-fire Dutchman.
Defeat by Stoke City tonight threatens to see him expectedly pay the price for Old Trafford's false promise of progress.
Only his players remain capable of saving him from that indignity. Now is their time to prove that they can.
Should he emerge from his uncharitably festive period unscathed, van Gaal's abrasive approach may lead him to undertake seismic changes next month which threaten to lay siege to United's old order.
In a season where key players have fallen massively short of expectations, a cull is clearly required on the pitch as much as it is being actively sought in the dugout.
Resistance from within has been the key narrative behind van Gaal's demise as United manager.
The 64-year-old's laborious tactics and training methods have set him on a collision course with those in the dressing room.
Even trusted former lieutenants like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay have struggled to remain on-message.
But, as Jose Mourinho continues to wait in the wings as van Gaal's potential successor, so too does a recent cautionary tale for Old Trafford's current malcontents.
Chelsea's players remained publicly steadfast in their support of the "Special One" during his final months in charge, but discord and treachery were rife within the ranks at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho was ultimately ousted by player power.
The derailment of his side's English Premier League defence was as rancorous as it proved rapid.
For all van Gaal's flaws, United have yet to be confronted by a once-inconceivable prospect of relegation this season.
Boring and unconvincing though they may be, he is what has set their malaise apart from Chelsea's remarkable downfall.
His pragmatism has seen them consolidate their place within the EPL's current chasing pack, albeit now at the rear, behind surprise leaders Leicester City.
Four weeks ago, United were the ones who were sitting in a once rightful place at the EPL summit.
It is a position to which they should again be growing increasingly accustomed as they were under Sir Alex Ferguson, when it became something of a second home.
Van Gaal sees no reason why that feat cannot be repeated again under his tutelage in the coming month.
With fewer league defeats this season than third-placed City, he justifiably sees his side's predicament as far less severe than it is currently viewed in some quarters.
Bridging the nine-point gap between fifth place and top spot is not beyond United's current crop.
At times, they have appeared every inch the champions-elect this season.
Maintaining that swashbuckling style and momentum has not been solely van Gaal's failure.
Persistent accusations of betrayal were eventually realised when Mourinho was condemned to his fate earlier this month.
For the sake of both their season and their futures, United's players must not allow themselves to follow suit.