LONDON: The threat to Louis Van Gaal of an early exit from Old Trafford receded even though Manchester United conceded their seventh goalless stalemate of the campaign at home to Chelsea.
United’s winless run thus stretched to eight matches but there were signs of encouragements from the tempo and energy generated by the team after the lacklustre performances which had placed their Dutch manager under the heaviest pressure of his 18-month reign.
They hit the posts twice and forced two fine saves from Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Van Gaal, who was applauded as he entered and left the pitch, said: “Inside of the club the players are willing to fight for every metre, the manager is willing to fight, the members of staff are willing to fight and the board is very confident in the staff and the manager so it (the negativity) is not inside Manchester United.”
A few United fans made it clear they wanted Jose Mourinho in the home dugout, rather than Van Gaal. Red scarves with Mourinho’s face on them were being sold by unofficial vendors outside the stadium before kick-off.
But for the most part, the United fans appreciated the attacking football on display in the first half. The full-backs overlapped the wingers, the forwards ran at Chelsea’s defence and the tempo was much higher.
Van Gaal acknowledged the ultimate decision on his tenure was up to the board but appeared confidence about his future.
He said: “I cannot have any influence on that. I can only work with my players and you have seen that the players are fighting for me; they have given a good performance.
“After this result the fans were applauding. I cannot say that I am very much concerned but in this football world you never know. When the players can give such a performance with this lot of pressure then it is not any reason to resign for me.
“I am under contract so it’s not a question of staying, it is a question of fulfilling my contract.”
Van Gaal was happy on the whole with his team’s display.
“I think it was a very good performance but you have to score a goal and we didn’t,” he said.
“Against Stoke in the first half we didn’t dare to play but that’s a big difference today – we dared to play and pressed a lot. We were the dominant team, we created chances, we shot on goal and only gave three chances away. Against a team like Chelsea, with such attackers, that’s not bad.”
The Dutchman’s only disappointment was with referee Martin Atkinson, who failed to award United two penalties.
The first came when Juan Mata went down in the box following a challenge by Cesar Azpilicueta and then Willian’s handball went unnoticed by the officials.
“We had two penalty cases, one the foul on Mata, the other the handball of Willian,” Van Gaal said.
“When I was on the bench I thought it was not on purpose but when you see on the video, you see the hand is going to the ball and not the ball is going to the hand and then you can only say we are unlucky.”
United may have been the better side, but Chelsea had their chances too. David de Gea saved well from John Terry, Azpilicueta and Pedro to keep the visitors at bay and Nemanja Matic wasted a good chance when through on goal.
Chelsea’s new interim manager Guus Hiddink was happy to take a point back to Stamford Bridge.
“Everyone knows we have some problems in our striker’s position due to suspension and injuries,” said the Chelsea manager, who was without Diego Costa, Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao.
“We have not won, but now we are three games (unbeaten) and that is important.”