Van Gaal reprieve as Jose looks on
Manchester United's owners, the Glazer family, are aware of Jose Mourinho's desire to return to management at Old Trafford, but remain determined to hand Louis van Gaal the opportunity to save his job over the Christmas period.
Mourinho, who has contacted Swansea City since his dismissal from Chelsea last Thursday in order to support the candidacy of compatriot Jose Morais for the managerial vacancy at the Liberty Stadium, has made it clear that he is ready to work again as quickly as possible following his departure from Stamford Bridge.
United's hierarchy have also been given a private indication of Mourinho's interest in succeeding Van Gaal at Old Trafford should the Dutchman lose his job, but with the 64-year-old and his players dining together for their Christmas lunch at Carrington yesterday, there remains a sense of business as usual ahead of the trip to Stoke City on Boxing Day, which may yet decide his fate.
While senior figures at the club are aware of tensions within the dressing room and a growing lack of faith among the squad in Van Gaal's methods, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach has yet to be cut adrift by the Glazers and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Work done by Van Gaal behind the scenes since succeeding David Moyes as manager in July 2014 is regarded as a success story by Woodward and the Glazers and, despite crashing out of the Champions League, it is his overall contribution at the club that is now earning him a stay of execution.
However, a further defeat against either Stoke this weekend or at home to Chelsea next Monday would see any lingering support evaporate and leave the Glazers and Woodward contemplating the merits of Mourinho as a successor.
While Ryan Giggs would be in place to take temporary charge in the event of Van Gaal leaving, should the Welshman be prepared to manage on an interim basis, Mourinho's availability ensures that the 52-year-old would be considered as a proven, top-level successor.
Despite Mourinho's blue-chip track record, notwithstanding his disastrous last season at Chelsea, the Glazers are still to be convinced by the former Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach's suitability for the United job.
The club's determination to remain one that is rooted in youth development jars with Mourinho's heavy focus on the first-team squad at all of his previous clubs.
Mourinho's tendency to clash with authority is another issue which has prompted discomfort at United, most notably with director and former player Sir Bobby Charlton citing that as a negative factor when asked about Mourinho's credentials as a potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson three years ago.
But with United travelling to Stoke having won just three of their last 13 games, there is an acceptance that Van Gaal is running out of chances to turn the tide.
Despite the pressure on Van Gaal, however, Mourinho has spent recent days attempting to help Morais land the Swansea job. The former Chelsea manager is understood to have contacted Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins to back the credentials of Morais, who was part of his backroom staff at Stamford Bridge.
Having sacked Garry Monk two weeks ago, Jenkins has failed to tempt Giggs into discussing the vacancy and remains keen to lure former Athletic Bilbao and Marseilles coach Marcelo Bielsa.
United playmaker Juan Mata, meanwhile, insists he and his team-mates can arrest their slump over the next week against Stoke and Chelsea.
Addressing fans in his weekly blog, the Spaniard wrote: "We are really disappointed for not giving you what you deserve, because your support is amazing and unconditional, but I'm sure that we will turn this situation around."
Mata, who was sold by Mourinho to United for £37.1m in January 2014, was disappointed to lose to Norwich but hopes the Red Devils can return to winning ways.
"I was confident that we were going to get the three points on Saturday in Old Trafford, but that was not the case," said the 27-year-old. "We are in a complicated situation and in order to get out of it we have to stick together and believe in ourselves."