Why Louis van Gaal is a good shout for manager of the season

The Manchester United manager has underlined his reputation with a season that is suddenly looking like it is going to end rosy for the Red Devils.

Whisper it quietly, but it looks like Louis van Gaal has proved to be arguably the managerial appointment of the season. 

The former Netherlands boss has steered a giant hulk of a ship that had been threatening to run aground under its own weight and expectation, back into open waters and all in time to dream of a nigh impossible, but nevertheless, hopeful late title bid.

Though in truth there is little chance of catching Chelsea, United find themselves right at the top of the tree in the Premier League once more, and have a chance to cement that when they take on Manchester City this weekend. It's their third big game in under a month, and looking at how the other two went against Spurs and Liverpool, there is every reason for United fans to be optimistic. 

There is also now the very real chance that Van Gaal will help is side to finish above City, the reigning Premier League champions don't forget, at the first time of asking.

And United's current position of third place represents as big a jump as has been made by any side from last season's final standings, when the Red Devils finished 7th.

In fact, currently only Swansea City and West Ham United have risen as many places in the league as United have under Van Gaal this season. 

The Swans finished 12th this season and are currently in 8th place, some way short of Southampton in 7th, while the Hammers are four points behind in 9th this year, compared to 13th last year.

It is easy to claim that United had the luxury of bringing in plenty of multi-million pound players to improve the squad, but in reality, those new additions have only contributed so much. The two highest profile among them: Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, have had disappointing seasons by their standards, while Daley Blind, Marcus Rojo and Ander Herrera have only gradually found form recently. Luke Shaw will also have felt he could have had a better debut season for the Red Devils, while adding that many players to a squad always comes with risks, however highly rated they are.

But what Van Gaal has done is put together a decent defensive record (third best in the league) from what was a very mixed up back four at times this season. Compared to last year, when United had the fifth best goals against record, it is easy to see how the Dutchman has coaxed Chris Smalling and Phil Jones into putting up decent performances, found a midfield flow that utilises Michael Carrick and gotten the best out of last year's big-money signings Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini.

Much of this good work has come in recent weeks, but its not surprising that, after the debacle that was last year, it took so many months for the players to rediscover their belief and their confidence. That, of course, will also owe much to the ex Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.

Ronald Koeman and Alan Pardew have also done well at Southampton and Crystal Palace respectively, but looking at the current league positions from last year and this year, both have merely stopped their outfits from slipping, rather than pushing them on like Van Gaal has with United.

Right now, United are very much in with a shot of second place in the league, a rise that would have been similar to that for which Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool received so much acclaim for last season. But even if the Old Trafford club do make do with a silver or bronze medal in the Premier League title race, rather than the golden prize, the steadying hand of Van Gaal, particularly in the sense that he has at the very least got them sailing in the right direction, is something that cannot be ignored when considering the manager gongs come the end of the season.

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