Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal believes that the club's pre-season program cost them the chance of a title challenge this season.
The Dutch boss took over at Old Trafford after the World Cup and was immediately forced to take his team on a pre-season tour to America, playing games in five different cities before returning home to begin their preparations in earnest.
The Red Devils seemed to pay the price for their pre-season tour and failed to win any of their first three matches, while they were only able to manage 13 points from 10 games - their worst return since 1987.
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Van Gaal has been able to turn Manchester United's fortunes around and they are all but assured of qualifying for the Champions League, with seven points separating them from Liverpool in fifth place.
However they are a mammoth 15 points behind runaway leaders Chelsea, who require only three more points to win their first league title since 2010. Manchester United have recently announced another pre-season tour to America, although they will only play four matches this time round.
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Asked how he intends to close the gap to Jose Mourinho's men next season, Van Gaal told reporters: "We need balance in our selection. I have said this many times. I cannot deny that we need balance. I think also the preparation of our season, Manchester United has already adapted to a better preparation.
“We shall have two bases in the US so we are not flying between matches, we are going via bus which is better. They have adapted to my criteria so we shall have a better preparation.
“We have started very badly this year. When you cut out the start we shall equal Chelsea but we have to start better. When I previewed our preparation now it looks better but we have to see of course. Then we have to make the balance in our selection better and then we have to perform better than this year.”
Van Gaal has more pressing matters to deal with against West Brom this weekend. He will be without the services of Michael Carrick and Luke Shaw, however the injury picked up by Wayne Rooney against Everton last weekend isn't as bad as first thought and he is in contention to start.
It's no doubt true that Manchester United got their season off to a slow start and dropped points against lesser teams. However that doesn't account for all of the 16 points they are behind Chelsea, and they had a terrible slump before their recent upturn when there were more than a few questions raised about his stewardship.
Instead he needs to focus on adding some tempo to his team and signing the right players to compliment his squad in the summer. That will have a greater effect than any pre-season tour.