Louis van Gaal told reporters that it would take three months for his players to get to grips with his philosophy - and warned Manchester United fans to expect a topsy-turvy opening three months under his management.
“Every club where I have been, I’ve struggled for the first three months,” Van Gaal said during United's successful pre-season tour of the United States. “After that, they [the players] know what I want – how I am as a human being and also a manager, because I am very direct."
United endure tough start to season
Three months have now passed - and, just as Van Gaal predicted, Manchester United have endured a mixed start to the 2014-15 Premier League campaign. But there have been enough encouraging signs over the past few weeks to suggest that Van Gaal is on the right tracks to turn the Red Devils into a major force once again.
There have been a few shaky moments, leading to question marks over Van Gaal's suitability for the role. United kicked off the Premier League campaign with a 2-1 home defeat to Swansea City, which was followed up by disappointing draws against Sunderland and newly-promoted Burnley.
Van Gaal humiliated by MK Dons
The lowest moment of Van Gaal's early Manchester United career, by some considerable distance, came on August 26. It should have been one of the best days of the Dutchman's tenure, after securing the services of the world-class Angel di Maria for a British transfer record fee of £59.7 million earlier in the evening, but United ended up slumping to one of the worst defeats in their entire 136-year history.
The Red Devils were hammered 4-0 by League One outfit MK Dons - a result which sent shockwaves not only across England but the whole of Europe. Had Manchester United made another terrible appointment? Were they too hasty in giving David Moyes the boot at the end of last season? All of these questions were being asked, and understandably so after such a pitiful result.
“Every club where I have been, I’ve struggled for the first three months,” Louis van Gaal.
Falcao arrival and QPR win
The international break came at the most opportune time. Supporters were buoyed by the arrival of the world-class Radamel Falcao - even though the popular Danny Welbeck was sold to Arsenal - and spirits were then lifted considerably with a comprehensive 4-0 battering of Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford.
For the first time since the United States, Manchester United fans saw their side play some scintillating football. Before that, it was hard to tell whether it was Van Gaal or Moyes at the helm.
Leicester City setback
But a week later, United endured a massive setback at the King Power Stadium. Despite taking a seemingly unassailable 3-1 lead, Leicester City scored four second-half goals in 20 minutes to leave their opponents shell-shocked. A 5-3 defeat left United fans wondering if the 4-0 victory over the woeful QPR was nothing more than a misleading result - and the same questions about Van Gaal's suitability surfaced.
However, after back-to-back Premier League wins over West Ham and Everton - which lifted Manchester United up to fourth in the table - there's a growing sense that Van Gaal's instructions are finally getting through to his players. The manager's willingness to switch from 3-4-1-2 to a 4-1-2-1-2 has also made a positive impact on results.
Tough month ahead
United were fortunate to secure a maximum six points from their previous two matches, but they performed well in stages, created many chances and were reasonably solid in defence considering their limited options. Keeping that momentum going will be crucial when they face West Brom on Monday evening. After their trip to the Hawthorns, Van Gaal's side take on Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal within the space of a month.
Ultimately, results against those three clubs will determine how much progress Manchester United have made under Van Gaal. But it might be a little unfair to judge if several key players remain sidelined through injury. Van Gaal has endured awful luck on the injury front since arriving at Old Trafford this summer, and without these constant setbacks, it's possible that United would currently be closer to league-leaders Chelsea in the table.
Van Gaal must secure top-four finish
Van Gaal has been assigned the task of getting Manchester United back into the top four this season. Failure to achieve that goal will result in the club missing out on Champions League football for a second successive season.
Whether or not that would result in Van Gaal suffering the same fate as Moyes will depend on how Manchester United perform between now and the end of the campaign.
But the early signs, after a slow start, have been positive. Manchester United fans are quietly optimistic about what might lie ahead this season, now that it's become clear Van Gaal has brought exciting attack-minded football back to Old Trafford.
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