Louis van Gaal preparing Manchester United for 'must-win' clash with Stoke
Under-fire Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has branded his side's Boxing Day meeting with Stoke a must-win match and warned his players they have to improve many aspects of their game.
The Dutchman has found himself under increasing scrutiny after a six-game winless run which has seen United exit the Champions League and fall nine points behind Barclays Premier League leaders Leicester.
Van Gaal walked out of his weekly press conference on Wednesday after accusing the media of trying to undermine him in his position as United manager.
Rumours have been circulating all week that he could lose his job, with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho now available and reportedly willing to take the United hot seat if the opportunity arises.
United travel to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday and Van Gaal knows they are under pressure to get a result.
"Yes, I think so because, when you have lost three times in a row, then you need a victory," Van Gaal said in an interview with MUTV.
"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."
Despite their miserable form, United still boast the meanest defence in the division, with just 14 goals conceded this season.
"I cannot say too loudly that we have to improve our defensive organisation," Van Gaal added.
"It is true it is always better that we keep a clean sheet, but we have to attack also and finish our chances - that is important. There are a lot of aspects we have to improve.
"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."
United captain Wayne Rooney insists the players are fighting to ease the pressure on the manager and reverse the club's fortunes.
"Obviously you have a lot of people talking about things they believe are happening but in reality a lot of people who are writing that stuff don't know what's happening," Rooney told Sky Sports News HQ.
"We're working hard and fighting for the manager to try to get results and turn the season around. It's important we all stick together."
United have not won since leaving Watford with three points on November 21, a result which took them to the Premier League summit.
Rooney admitted a nightmare month has left United short on belief ahead of the trip to Stoke and back-to-back home matches against Chelsea and Swansea.
"We haven't won games in the last few weeks so it's normal confidence will be a bit lower," he said.
"We need to try to get it back because we've got some tough games coming up and need to be at our best to win them.
"As a group of players we know we can do better and we're all working together to try to come up with the best solution to help us win football matches.
"It's not nice when you're getting criticised every game. It's tough for the players to deal with. We get hurt because we're proud people and proud to play for Manchester United. When it's not going right it's hard to take and frustrating.
"We need to get through this group of games coming up because the last few games haven't been good enough and sometimes it's fundamentals and basics of the game that you need to get right."
Like Van Gaal, Rooney has received plenty of criticism this season after netting only twice in the Premier League.
"We all have families and sometimes there's a lot of stuff that gets written which is not nice for your family to see," Rooney added.
"It's okay for me to deal with but there's people in my family who aren't used to it and it's tough for them.
"But that's part of being a football player these days. I know my performances can be better. I'm working hard to try to improve them."