Louis van Gaal going nowhere as Man United try to finish the season strong
Some Manchester United fans are so desperate for Louis van Gaal to get sacked that they tuned in to Monday night's FA Cup game against Shrewsbury almost hoping for a defeat. If this week ended with United knocked out of the FA Cup, knocked out of the Europa League and beaten by Arsenal in the league, surely Van Gaal would have to be immediately dismissed.
Others might argue that if he could survive that dismal period in December, when United managed to fall from top of the league to sixth in the table in less than five weeks, he could survive anything. But without any silverware up for grabs, Ed Woodward's hand would surely be forced.
United put in a good performance against Shrewsbury, who are battling against relegation from League One, leading to lots of comments about United finally finding their level. While United were expected to win, it would be disingenuous to claim that the Premier League side always batters lower league opposition in the FA Cup. Following the dismal performance and depressing display against FC Midtjylland last week, there were some predictions that United would go in to the game with their heads down and struggle to get a result. As it turned out, United played like a team that was going to win from the first whistle.
They were worthy winners, with 75 percent possession and 26 attempts on goal compared to Shrewsbury's three. What should be a concern, though, is United's inability to score more goals in a game they totally dominated, with just six attempts on target.
Social media is probably a poor reflection of a club's entire fan base but until the opening goal on 37 minutes, United supporters on Twitter were unbearable. Their team went in 2-0 up at half-time but if you were to judge the game from the comments of the fans, you'd think United were getting slaughtered, such is the level of impatience and negativity have the supporters become in the post-Ferguson years.
As per usual, Jesse Lingard received more than his fair share of stick. Even when he scored to put United 3-0 up, there weren't many kind words said about him. You'd be forgiven for being unaware he's scored three goals and assisted two in his last six appearances for the club, a pretty decent return from the wing, if you were to listen how the fans talk of him. But Lingard's situation, and the criticism his place in the team attracts, is representative of the wider problems at Manchester United right now. Players like John O'Shea, Phil Neville, Jonny Evans or Darren Fletcher weren't exactly world-beaters but they all had a role to play in United winning European Cups and numerous league titles.
Like that quartet, Lingard should be a useful squad player, coming on in the second half to offer United something different, as he did to much success earlier this season at Goodison Park in his team's 3-0 win over Everton. However, thanks to injuries and a lack of top talent on the flanks, Lingard is starting more often than not. O'Shea, Fletcher & Co. always played alongside some of the best players in the world, certainly in the league but when you look at United's current squad, the highest calibre players are missing, making Lingard an easy target for criticism.
David de Gea is United's only world-class player while Anthony Martial, only 20 years old, has the potential to become one. When played in his proper position, Juan Mata is a fantastic talent but it's hard to think of any one else in the squad who has proven to be a genuinely quality player for any lengthy period of time. So, a 3-0 win over Shrewsbury is about as good as it gets for this lot at the moment, with fans having to wait until Thursday against Midtjylland to see if United are left in just one competition to play for.
Whatever the outcome in the Europa League, it's unlikely that Van Gaal will be given his marching orders, much to the confusion of the supporters. Whether they want Jose Mourinho or Ryan Giggs, there seems to be the notion that "anyone would be better than Van Gaal." Of course, that's not strictly true. If Giggs is only prepared to take the job on a permanent basis and not do another stint as interim manager, while Mourinho is only interested in taking charge of the team in the summer so as to not be associated with this car crash of a season, what better option are United left with?
That's all ifs, buts and maybes as we don't really know what's going on behind the scenes, but Woodward's hands may be tied unless he's going to replace Van Gaal with Tim Sherwood or Nigel Pearson. Some of United's fans would still argue it can't get any worse, but, of course, that's not the case. There are plenty of places in the table below fifth, and for all Van Gaal's flaws, it's hard to think of managers who could do a better job from February onwards, if Giggs and Mourinho aren't viable options right now.
That could mean whatever the result on Thursday, Van Gaal will keep his job and he may well keep it until the end of the season even after it becomes mathematically impossible to qualify for the Champions League. Maybe then his replacement will be announced for the 2016-17 season, but anyone hoping to see the back of the Dutchman anytime soon could well be left disappointed.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.