Manchester United on the up under Louis van Gaal

It was in April last year that we were saying our merry goodbyes to David Moyes and have since welcomed the illustrious Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal and his “philosophy”.

Optimism at almost the same point is far greater under Van Gaal, mainly due to the fact that Manchester United are still in serious contention for the much sought after Champions League spots.

The confidence that Van Gaal has in his own abilities to get this side back to the glory days has acted as a catalyst for supporters to get right behind this world-class manager. Just as a smile can be infectious, so too can confidence.

Van Gaal came into his maiden campaign at Old Trafford on a high from the pre-season games having proven invincible, even putting three goals past a strong Real Madrid side. However all that work was shattered immediately as the Red Devils lost 2-1 on the opening day of the season.

United donning the much argued over 3-4-1-2 formation failed to make a real impact on the game against Swansea with wayward crosses and failed attacks marring their performance. Injuries too proved a real concern, meaning Van Gaal could not settle upon a preferred XI.

Transfer troubles

Van Gaal then brought in two formidable players, which would on their day make any defender petrified. The talented and skilful Angel di Maria moved to Manchester United in a £60 million pound deal from Real Madrid.

The other big transfer acquisition was that of Radamel Falcao on loan from Monaco with the option to buy. There was certainly a significant feel-good factor at the club once the arrivals of both had been confirmed.

But, alas, it has not gone to plan. These two were acquired to create a more potent strikeforce, but it is questionable whether or not either should feature in the starting XI. Di Maria will, at least, have further time to prove himself, but the end is nigh for Falcao.

Formation failure

But Manchester United’s real problems have not been in the attacking area this season, but rather in defence. Although their record has improved dramatically as the campaign has progressed, much of this is owed to the exceptional form of David de Gea.

Van Gaal had attempted to adopt a 3-4-1-2 formation which seemingly has now been scrapped. But this formation could have worked out in Van Gaal’s favour if he had brought in one world class and dominant centre back that would be able to organise that defence.

Injuries also played a key part in its failings given that Van Gaal was unable to find a settled back three. And, while the emergence of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair has been positive, one or two quality centre backs must be in Van Gaal’s shopping basket by the end of the next transfer window.

Back on track

With all of these problems Van Gaal has still managed to put up a fight against the strongest teams in the league, with major highlights being the 3-0 wins over Liverpool and Tottenham, along with last weekend's reverse at Anfield.

Last season we were seeing major losses against the top sides, with humblings against both Manchester City and Chelsea. Van Gaal has managed to close the gap in the games against these top teams, even though his side has often been found wanting in terms of cohesive performances.

In a game with such small margins for success Van Gaal has managed to get Manchester United back into the top four as a regular this season. After 30 games in the Premier League his side are sitting in fourth place with 59 points - a vast improvement on last season.

Consistency and Stability

Van Gaal brings an element of consistency over the whole season whereas Moyes would bring consistency over shorter periods. Moyes recorded six straight wins in the lead up to the New Year only to then lose six of the next eight games after that.

Under Van Gaal there have been shocking loses against MK Dons and Leicester, but this Manchester United side seems similar to Alex Ferguson's in the way it responds to defeat.

Confidence right now is sky high and Van Gaal's side are firm favourites to finish among the top four. And if they can do that, who knows what can be achieved next season.

Manchester United fans: where do you expect your team to finish this season?

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