United head to the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day on a run of three successive defeats that has led to increased speculation about Van Gaal’s future and his subsequent early exit from Wednesday’s press conference.
Van Gaal spoke to sources less than 24 hours after his request for an apology from journalists at Carrington and was able to focus more on Saturday’s task against a Stoke side he feels has more talent than their record would suggest.
“Yes, I think so [it’s a must-win game] because, when you have lost three times in a row, then you need a victory,” said Van Gaal, whose United side last won a league game on November 21.
“One month ago, we were first in the Premier League. Everything has changed but it’s also possible to be, next month again, in the fighting position for a title. But we have to win first against Stoke City, that is the main focus.”
The Boxing Day game features two teams near the top of the defensive table, United having conceded a league-low 14 goals – tied with Arsenal and Tottenham – while 11th placed Stoke have let in only two more.
Van Gaal knows how tough the Potters will be to break down, while conceding they also have plenty of weapons going forward, certainly more than their league-low of 14 goals [tied with Aston Villa] would suggest.
“We have focused ourselves to do that but it is not easy. Stoke City have won against Manchester City, for example, and it’s a special ground. It is not easy with a lot of circumstances that are not suitable always to playing good football,” said the Dutchman, whose captain Wayne Rooney earlier said the United squad was fully behind.
“The key is always communication and talking with each other for the evaluation of the match, how we have prepared and so on and so on. We have to focus on that match and we have to win that match.
“We have analysed Stoke and seen the ball is flying in the wind. You have to cope with every circumstance and that is why we are preparing ourselves for that game so we can show the players what it is like.
“I have said already in one of my press conferences that players like Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri are very good attacking players and have played for fantastic clubs like Barcelona and also Bayern Munich. You cannot say that these clubs cannot buy players from that level.”