LONDON, February 13 – Louis van Gaal says he would be upset if it is true that Manchester United have approached Jose Mourinho behind his back.
Embattled United boss van Gaal takes his team to Sunderland on Saturday with speculation mounting that Mourinho is waiting in the wings to take charge at Old Trafford.
United have refused to deny reports they have spoken to Mourinho in recent weeks following their team’s slump and the former Chelsea boss is said to have made it clear he is ready to replace van Gaal if the Dutchman is sacked or departs at the end of the season.
Van Gaal concedes it is plausible the club have made contact with Mourinho in secret, but he is hoping that is not the case.
“Then I shall be disappointed (if contact has been made),” he said.
“Because that is the consequence of what I have said. In a football world that is possible, I know, but I do not think that.
“I have a relationship with (executive vice chairman) Ed (Woodward) and the Glazers, they (would) tell me I think.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Vardy is adamant Leicester City remain unfazed by the mounting pressure of the title race as the shock leaders prepare for a summit meeting with Arsenal on Sunday.
For the first time this season, Claudio Ranieri’s side find themselves the bookmakers’ favourites to be crowned champions after their fairytale rise reached a new high with last weekend’s stunning 3-1 win at title rivals Manchester City.
The Foxes sit five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and third-placed Arsenal with just 13 games remaining and the previously unthinkable prospect of the unfashionable outfit winning a first ever top-flight title is now a genuine possibility.
But the task of successfully completing an unexpected title bid proved too much for Liverpool in the closing weeks of the 2013-14 season and many pundits still believe Leicester’s unheralded players, who only last year were fighting to avoid relegation, will crumble in similar style.
However, England striker Vardy insists there are no signs of any nerves in the camp ahead of this weekend’s crucial clash with the Gunners in north London.
“We’re just enjoying it aren’t we? We’re enjoying the ride,” Vardy said. “If you start thinking about it too much it’s going to affect you, it’s as simple as that.
“We’ll just continue to do exactly the same thing we’ve done all season.
“Arsenal are up there, we’re up there, (Manchester) City are. We’ll just take every game as it comes, knuckle down and hopefully keep picking points up.”
– Pounded –
Arsene Wenger’s team pounded Leicester in a 5-2 victory inspired by an Alexis Sanchez hat-trick in September and in the process extended their 22-year unbeaten league record against the Foxes to 18 matches.
But Vardy is confident Leicester, steeled by their recent triumphs at City and Tottenham, have learnt the lessons of their heaviest defeat of the season and will provide more obdurate opposition for Arsenal this time around.
“No doubt it will be tough against Arsenal, we know the players they’ve got are world class but although we lost 5-2 when we played them last time we did show that we can hurt them,” Vardy said.
Just hours after the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium, attention will turn north to Eastlands, where City host Tottenham in the other fixture with major implications for the title race this weekend.
Buoyed by four successive league wins, Mauricio Pochettino’s team harbour hopes of a first English title since 1961.
Tottenham have made a habit of failing to fulfil their potential whenever they have started to look like title contenders in the past, but Pochettino, who took charge last season, sees far more resilience in the current squad.
“I think we are different people now,” Pochettino said.
“It’s difficult to explain but today we live in the present and everyone at the club believes we can win every game.”
Liverpool, dumped out of the FA Cup by West Ham United in midweek and rocked by their fans’ recent walkout over ticket prices, could also do with a morale-boosting win when they face bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa.