Nearly two-fifths through the Premier League season, Manchester United has returned to relevance and restored a feeling of optimism at Old Trafford. With a trip to St. Mary’s Stadium on Monday, United will have the opportunity to take sole possession of third place in the Premier League table and build even more confidence in the squad and with supporters.
Without a doubt, United’s psychological and tactical transformation has been driven by the arrival of manager Louis van Gaal, a man who is famously not short on confidence. The 63-year-old tactical mastermind has a coaching pedigree that raises as many eyebrows as stories of his locker room antics: Ajax, AZ, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Netherlands.
Upon arriving at Manchester United, Van Gaal instantly returned United to the front pages for the right reasons by bringing in established big-name talents like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao. In truth, the renewed culture of optimism at Old Trafford has more to do with manager Van Gaal on the sidelines than it does with any particular player on the pitch.
Although several players have performed at high levels, the constant flow of injuries has tested United’s seasoned boss, and Van Gaal has been able to adapt to injuries remarkably well, having guided the Red Devils through the first 14 matches with only three defeats. Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata have all played vital roles in earning necessary points of late, and all three men were not in the coach’s original plans. As injuries have decimated his squad, Van Gaal has displayed a remarkable ability to construct teams with the scraps on hand. He is football’s version of MacGyver.
Ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal, United is safely slotted behind front-runners Chelsea and Manchester City. As it stands, the Red Devils are in line to finish in the top four and poised for a return to Europe’s elite club competition. For United, a return to the Champions League must be the goal. The season would be deemed a success because the following campaign would promise European nights, more big-name signings and an opportunity to take a proper run at a Premier League title with an English season under Van Gaal’s belt.
Already, the confidence Van Gaal has restored at Old Trafford is cause to say that United is ?back.? However, United’s return is a three-step process.
In the first stage of returning Manchester United to glory, Val Gaal needed to reshape the fabric of the team and instill confidence that only he could provide. Fair play, having Ryan Giggs on the bench did not hurt Van Gaal’s image with the United faithful.
Earning results, no matter how they are earned, is necessary to finish in the top four. Playing positive football and taking advantage of the fact the Red Devils have a stable of goal scorers endeared the manager to the fans, especially on the heels of the treacherously negative football that was played under former manager David Moyes. Also, Van Gaal has been able to bring young talent like James Wilson and Paddy McNair through the ranks, which is an important step in order to avoid a return to rubble.
If United can continue forward to a top-four finish, the next step would be competing on two fronts. Liverpool has provided a prime example of how to jeopardize a season by failing to properly focus on either the domestic league or the Champions League. Arsenal, of course, has the best track record of performing on both fronts.
In his last club coaching stint, Van Gaal’s 2009-10 Bayern Munich team won the German Bundesliga and the German Cup. The team failed to claim the German treble, but it did arrive at the Champions League final. Suffice to say, this manager understands how to battle on multiple fronts.
The final stage of United’s return, where Arsenal falls short all too often, is winning trophies. Manchester United will never truly be ?back? until the cabinets are unlocked and trophies are added to the shelves. Although Val Gaal’s primary objective may have been to restore confidence and pride in the club, his ultimate objective is to provide United with silverware.
Is Manchester United back? No, but it is on its way thanks to malleable tactics of the overbearing and confident figure of Van Gaal, who cannot help but resemble the man who held court at Old Trafford for nearly three decades: Sir Alex Ferguson.


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