August 2014 and the season commenced for United. By the end of the summer transfer market, six new faces had graced Old Trafford; Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Radamel Falcao. All the signings brought in a wave of expectations, however, only three have blossomed respectably.
But more than the summer signings, it is the resurrection of the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling Ashley Young, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini that have propelled United to where they are; sitting in third place, a point behind second-placed Arsenal and four points ahead of city rivals, Manchester City.
Under the tutelage of David Moyes last season, the quintet was culpable of putting in sub-par and far too inconsistent a performance. However, four months under the leadership of highly experienced and coveted Dutchman and the players have a renewed sense of purpose. All of a sudden, their once frail future at Old Trafford has been cemented. Suddenly, Manchester United have morphosized from a team in transition into one capable of challenging for honours – doing so with an attractive brand of play.
It may have taken a while, but after much tinkering with his formation, Van Gaal has finally settled for a 4-3-3 formation, providing the much-needed stability Manchester United so desperately needed. And with the infusion of confidence in his players, not compromising on quality, disregarding ‘big names’ mentality and carefully attending to the mental rot that threatened to ruin a talented side, Van Gaal has certainly got United ticking like a well-oiled machine.
His constant insistence on possessional play as well as his often attack-minded tactics is now paying dividends. An added advantage is the having successfully incorporated a brilliant passes in Herrera, a visionary in Mata, a target man in Fellaini and a pacey winger in Young into one side – and getting the balance just right.
Now, with the balance proving just right, there need not be unorthodox deployments of players to fill in a void that seemed big enough to threaten the side’s performance. Van Gaal has now found the right fix, the right balance and has done so at about the right time, ‘squeaky bum time’ as predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson, put it. It is the rush for automatic qualification into Europe’s elite competition, the UEFA Champions League.