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Liverpool could be make-or-break for Louis van Gaal at Manchester United

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Louis van Gaal's Manchester United destiny could all come down to how he approaches the game against Liverpool at Anfield.

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There are not many opinions I share with your dad. Of course, there are some - I think teenagers play too many videogames now, that gamesmanship and branding is increasingly making the Premier League unbearable and that the Labour party has lost its sense of direction - but by and large, we're not very similar people. There is one other big view that we share though, one that's held dear unlike any other, and that's that fourth place is not an achievement. It is not "very much like a trophy", and it is not what Manchester United should be judging Louis van Gaal on.

Even if you think it does represent some great triumph, there's too many inconsistencies here. The general agreement is that Moyes made a poor showing of last season and was sacked for not finishing in the top four. Yet after making a hundred and fifty million pounds worth of upgrades, we're expected to believe that the achievement has been set at the same level. You can think Moyes was a bad manager, but he wasn't United's Souness figure - he wasn't there for long enough to cause any long-term damage, with only a few over-the-hill retirees leaving, and only two players signed, one of whom is very good and one of him is not, but is well-liked by Van Gaal. The expectations ought to have been the same, even before spending all that money.

So, fourth should be the minimum we expect. In fact, if you cast your minds back, we all expected a title challenge at the very least, and we've come nowhere near. Rotten Chelsea form means we may well finish within single figures of them, but at no point did United look likely to win the title, the season was over in March just like it was under Moyes, and the prospect of holding off Liverpool, Arsenal, Southampton and Spurs to clinch fourth is looking sketchy at best.

The thrashing of Tottenham is the major anomaly here, breaking up a long, long streak of awful football, lucky wins, awful defeats and draws, and a sequence of results that was just good enough to keep the team plodding along. The deadline given for the emergence of the famed 'philosophy' has been extended from weeks to months to well maybe let's have a look next season, as the on-pitch displays have generally, that one outlier aside, been getting worse and worse. The signings, meanwhile, have been good but not great. The case for a sacking is certainly there if anybody wants to make it.

So, something else is needed to make that judgement. We need a way to decide, to put it in the bluntest terms, if Van Gaal is a United manager or not, rather than whether he achieves an entirely arbitrary placing which will depend on the form of several other teams. Handily then, United travel to Anfield this weekend.

The importance of this game is obvious - not only a top-four clash, but just as that City defeat made Moyes' position untenable, it could radically alter how Van Gaal is viewed at the end of the season. Tonk them 3-0 at their own home, and it would probably lend Van Gaal the support to continue his rebuilding job even if fourth place could not be achieved thereafter. Get a 3-0 humping and finish fifth, and it will more than undo the Tottenham win which had prevented a large number of Reds to begin to question the merits of the man.

It's not just the cold, pragmatic point of victory or defeat, however, as the frustration with United's dour winning streak proves. It should be a source of worry that Van Gaal could not figure out how to play against the easiest team to play against in the league in Arsenal, and threw away the last hope of a trophy as a result. Liverpool are a far more difficult beast to suss out, and the strategy trying to keep it tight and snatch a goal on the break has a comprehensive recent track record of failure at Anfield.

The onus, then, is for attacking football, just as deployed against Spurs, but in a far braver place to do it. For the sake of both practicality and because it's Manchester United, and it's Liverpool, and if you go there and play for the draw we might as well hire Sam Allardyce and have done with it.

Is it harsh? Possibly. But this is, after all, United, and this is the man who's supposed to be taking control and returning the club to its former heights. This is also a team that he's had months and months to get to grip with which is supposedly superior to that of its rivals. Demanding victory against Liverpool should never be too much to ask. If it is, we can all pack up and go home, and not just whoever's in the dugout.