London: Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal’s future was plunged into serious doubt on Saturday as his side crashed 2-0 at Stoke City, while leaders Leicester City lost at Liverpool.
United have now gone seven games without victory in all competitions - their worst run since 1989-90 - and speculation is rife that Van Gaal, who dropped Wayne Rooney to the bench before bringing him on for the second-half, will pay for their slump with his job.
He had described the match as “must-win”, but his side were deservedly beaten after Bojan Krkic punished a Memphis Depay error to open the scoring in the 19th minute before Marko Arnautovic slammed home a second goal seven minutes later.
Asked if he felt he still had the support of the United board, Van Gaal told Sky Sports at a windswept Britannia Stadium: “It’s another situation. We have lost the fourth game (in succession), so you have to wait and see.”
He added: “It’s more difficult because I’m also part of the four matches that we have lost.
“So people are looking at me. I have to deal with that, but much more important is that the players have to deal with that because they have to perform.”
Van Gaal’s side slipped to sixth in the table, three points below the top four, with Stoke, managed by former United striker Mark Hughes, now three points behind them in 10th place.
Leicester lost 1-0 at Anfield, their first away defeat of the campaign, with Christian Benteke sliding home a 63rd-minute winner after coming on to replace the injured Divock Origi before half-time.
Benteke spurned a gilt-edged chance to make the game safe in stoppage time when he was thwarted by Wes Morgan after Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had gone up for a throw-in, but his earlier strike was enough to give manager Jurgen Klopp a first win in four league games.
Leicester’s defeat, only their second of the season, means that Arsenal can go top if they win at Southampton later on Boxing Day.
Manchester City reignited their title challenge by bouncing back from Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Arsenal with a breezy 4-1 win over second-bottom Sunderland that left them three points off the summit.
Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony scored inside the first 22 minutes to put City in control, with Kevin De Bruyne adding a fourth before Fabio Borini replied for Sam Allardyce’s side.
But it was not all positive news for City manager Manuel Pellegrini, with Bony skying a late penalty and, more worryingly, skipper Vincent Kompany limping off just 10 minutes after coming on following eight games out with a calf injury.
Tottenham Hotspur tightened their grip on fourth place by overcoming Norwich City 3-0 at White Hart Lane, where Harry Kane scored twice - the first a penalty - to take his tally for the season to 13.
Tom Carroll was also on target.
Diego Costa scored twice as Guus Hiddink began his second spell as Chelsea interim manager with a 2-2 draw at home to Watford, Oscar missing a late penalty that would have given the champions all three points.
Troy Deeney, with a penalty, and Odion Ighalo put Watford 2-1 ahead after Costa had given Chelsea a 32nd-minute lead, but the Spain striker equalised in the 65th minute from Willian’s pass.
Oscar had a chance to give Chelsea victory when substitute Eden Hazard was fouled by Valon Behrami, but the Brazilian slipped as he took his penalty and sent the ball looping into the crowd.
Chelsea, who visit United on Monday, are two points above the relegation places in 15th place.
Elsewhere, Crystal Palace climbed one place to fifth after drawing 0-0 at Bournemouth.
Managerless Swansea City escaped the relegation zone as Ki Sung-Yueng’s ninth-minute tap-in saw off West Bromwich Albion, while bottom club Aston Villa drew 1-1 at home to West Ham United.
Swansea’s win saw Newcastle United drop into the bottom three, but Steve McClaren’s side can clamber out of the relegation zone if they avoid defeat at home to Everton later on Saturday.
AFC Bournemouth 0 Crystal Palace 0
Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 1
Chelsea 2 Watford 2
Liverpool 1 Leicester City 0
Manchester City 4 Sunderland 1
Stoke City 2 Manchester United 0
Swansea City 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Norwich City 0
Newcastle vs. Everton, 2130 UAE
Southampton vs. Arsenal, 2345