Louis Van Gaal asked his critics to judge him after three months at Manchester United. The Dutchman had opened his account at United in a disastrous fashion that prompted speculation that he may face the same fate as his predecessor, David Moyes.
Van Gaal may have said recently that he regrets putting a time frame to start delivering the right results at United, but signs are clear that the Red Devils are on the right path.
The progress was confirmed after the 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Sunday. It may have required a ‘Fergie-time’ equaliser from Robin van Persie, but United clearly coped with most of the questions posed by the table leaders. Chelsea clearly remain the team to beat in the division and for United to get a credible draw speaks volumes about their progress.
Marouane Fellaini had been completely written off as a spectacular flop only a few months ago, but Van Gaal appears to have seen the way to get the best out of the Belgian international.
Rather than make the player come to terms with Manchester United’s style of football, Fellaini has been used in the role where he is once again using his best qualities, physicality and eye for goal, to fight the opposition. Of course, it is a little premature to say that Fellaini will be a regular for United over the remainder of the season. The Belgian, after all, has had only two good performances.
Still, United can only get better in the coming weeks, as they get the likes of Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney back onto the pitch. Carrick was an unused sub against Chelsea and it was probably justified after the England international was not going to be at 100% after missing the last few months due to injury. Rooney’s suspension is now complete and he will return for the crucial Manchester derby on Sunday.
These positives, however, should not hide the fact that United still remain a long way away from being major title contenders. The club appears to have lost some of its physical strength across the pitch. There are players like Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Marouane Fellaini capable of dominating in the set pieces, but they are few and far between. Didier Drogba’s goal on Sunday showed the lack of height within the team, as it was only Rafael marking the Ivorian after United were left short of big players.
Teams like Stoke and Crystal Palace could exploit this weakness with ease. Van Gaal will be looking to address this issue either in the January or summer transfer window. The Dutchman did accept after the Chelsea match that his team were not well-equipped to deal with physical teams.
It is not surprising that United are placed at a distant 14/5 to win at the Etihad stadium. The home team suffered a shock defeat against West Ham on Saturday, but they are at 17/20 for the three points.
These matches are made even more difficult for Manchester United since they are away from home. United certainly appear to have rediscovered their form at Old Trafford, but they remain a long away from achieving the same kind of consistency on the road.
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