Managing Manchester United is no easy task, but Louis van Gaal is doing pretty much the ideal job with them at the moment - he is winning games and for the time being it doesn't matter a jot how they go about doing that.
An FA Cup fifth round trip to Preston North End was proving troublesome soon after half-time when the League One side took a shock lead through Scott Laird. Up to that point the club from Old Trafford had looked distinctly average and did not look like a goal was on the cards.
However, despite playing poorly and being ripe 'giant killing' fodder for the Cup's famed magic, Van Gaal's men clammily played on a eventually turned things around to run out comfortable 3-1 winners. The Preston goal was a shock, but they hadn't created much before or after it.
Radamel Falcao was removed after an anonymous showing and his centre-forward replacement, Marouane Fellaini, was so much more effective and it showed when his latched onto his own parried header to slam home the second and ultimately decisive goal.
It was by no means a vintage showing and there has been some outrage following the match because of a possible offside for the first and a 'dive' for the third goal, both incidents concerning Wayne Rooney.
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Whatever your view of those incidents, Manchester United's greater quality eventually shone through and they deserved to win the match. They had a tricky few minutes and came through it to secure a win they were expected to get, without much fuss.
Some commentators have pointed out that the style of play is painfully dull and the failure to consistently create goalscoring opportunities is a sign that Van Gaal is failing to get the best ou t of his squad.
Good Run of Form
With a fair old chunk of negativity about, it's easy to forget that since the defeat away at Manchester City, Manchester United have lost just once in 19 matches and are still third in the Premier League table, only five points behind their local rivals in second.
There is little dispute over the suggestion that they are not playing very well, it's hardly slick and stylish football, but the current state of affairs is vastly improved from last season. David Moyes' team were playing worse and were finding wins a lot harder to come by.
It's a bit of stretch to assume that a squad built up of, largely, the same players can just easily brush off a whole season of confidence-crushing misery. They clearly have not and this lack of belief is evident in the absence of verve in the team's performances.
Critics Ignoring Reality of Heavy Investment
£150million plus of summer spending is also used a rod to beat Van Gaal with, despite the plights of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur when they both brought in a large number of new players. Whether they cost £6million or £60million, new players need time to adjust to new surroundings before they can feel completely comfortable.
So, when you aren't playing well it is important not to lose - this is exactly what Manchester United have been doing. A couple of weeks ago they were utterly outplayed at West Ham United, but still came away with a point after Daley Blind bagged an injury time equaliser.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge this kind of thing was called character and put down to the spirit the great Scot instilled at the club. WHen they tok about the manner in which Van Gaal's team are playing are very quickly forgetting Ferguson's final season.
Robin van Persie, signed from Arsenal in the summer, was on fire for most of the season and his brilliance in front of goal covered up some pretty abysmal performances. There were even some suggestions that it was the worst team ever to win the Premier League title, such was the grey tinge of the football they played.
Right Habits Returning
Louis van Gaal is a manager of the highest order and he would have known when walking into the crisis that was Manchester United late last summer that the first thing to do must be to rediscover 'not knowing when they're beaten' attitude that so sustained their success over so many years.
Don't lose and get into the habit of winning games; slick performances can come later. Van Gaal is a winner and he is just beginning to create a team of them under him.
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