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Van Gaal on knife-edge as United face Chelsea

FP/File | Manchester United's Dutch manager Louis van Gaal (C) waves as he leaves after the English Premier League football match between Stoke City and Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, central England on December 26, 2015

FP/File | Manchester United’s Dutch manager Louis van Gaal (C) waves as he leaves after the English Premier League football match between Stoke City and Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, central England on December 26, 2015

LONDON, December 28 – Manchester United’s besieged manager Louis van Gaal could see his troubled Old Trafford reign put out of its misery on Monday with fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink cast in the role of executioner.

United’s 2-0 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday was their fourth loss in succession — the club’s worst run within a season since 1961 — and reduced Van Gaal to a dead man walking in the eyes of the British media.

The Dutchman admitted afterwards that he could not be certain of the United board’s support and raised the prospect that he could choose to leave Old Trafford of his own accord.

“I have said already in former press conferences that it is not always that the club has to fire or sack me. Sometimes I do it by myself,” he said.

“But the scrutiny is all right for me, I am used to that.”

“A month ago we were first in the Premier League but we lost important games and now we have to come back in more difficult situations than last year because last year everyone believed and there was progression, now there is a fallback and that is different and everybody is judging also different.”

Should United fail to win on Monday, they will end the year with their lowest points total in 26 years.

Chelsea dispensed with their own manager last week, Jose Mourinho paying the price for a calamitous start to the season, and the Portuguese is the favourite to take over at United in the event that Van Gaal departs.

Hiddink has replaced Mourinho as interim manager, reprising a role he previously performed in 2009.

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The 69-year-old Hiddink began life back at Stamford Bridge with a 2-2 draw at home to Watford on Saturday that left the champions two points above the relegation zone in 15th place.

Diego Costa scored twice to earn Chelsea a point — book-ending goals from Watford strikers Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo — but will miss Monday’s game through suspension. Loic Remy is expected to deputise.

“We will go to Old Trafford. It will be difficult, but I hope this team will show, in every game, the ambition like they showed against Watford,” Hiddink said. “We are going there for the win.”

Second-place Arsenal will hope to get their title challenge back on track when they host Bournemouth on Monday, less than 48 hours after an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Southampton.

With leaders Leicester City having lost 1-0 at Liverpool, victory would have sent Arsenal top, but they put in a bafflingly below-par display that resulted in their heaviest defeat of the campaign.

– Aguero primed for Leicester -“These players have fantastic spirit. We want to respond from the disappointment,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

“I trust my players to respond well on Monday. Bournemouth have played very well recently.”

Leicester remained top despite their first away defeat of the campaign, but on Tuesday face a taxing home game against third-place Manchester City, who returned to form on Saturday by crushing Sunderland 4-1.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be without captain Vincent Kompany, who aggravated a calf injury against Sunderland, but striker Sergio Aguero is likely to start after being rested.

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Tottenham Hotspur moved into the top four on Saturday by beating Norwich City 3-0, Harry Kane scoring twice, and they face another promoted team on Monday in the form of Watford.

While bottom club Aston Villa — nine points from safety — and second-bottom Sunderland — four points better off — are at risk of being cut adrift, just three points separate third-bottom Newcastle United and 13th-place West Bromwich Albion, who face off at The Hawthorns.

Fixtures (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated)

Monday:

Arsenal v Bournemouth (1730 GMT), Crystal Palace v Swansea City, Everton v Stoke City, Manchester United v Chelsea (1730 GMT), Norwich City v Aston Villa, Watford v Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United, West Ham United v Southampton (1730 GMT)

Tuesday (1945 GMT):

Leicester v Manchester City

Wednesday (1945 GMT):

Sunderland v Liverpool

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