After finishing in seventh position last season, United have recovered to finish in the top four and return to the Champions League after one year out.
Van Gaal’s first major aim upon arrival in England was to return to Europe’s elite club competition as quickly as possible, and he has achieved just that despite a few set-backs along the way.
There have been signs, especially in the second half of the season, that United are well on their way to returning to their best, but club legend Cole believes expectations need to be lowered ahead of 2015-16.
The former striker, who scored 121 goals for United, told the Mirror, “The aim should be the same again - to finish in the Champions League. To win the Premier League next year would be very, very tough.
“Chelsea have been the best team. In the first half of the season they played very well and in the second half they ground results out. How many teams can do what Chelsea do? There are going to be the team to beat next season.
“Arsenal will be there if they buy a couple of players. If you miss out for two years it gets harder and harder. It will be tough for Manchester United to win the Premier League next year.”
Cole’s surprising negativity regarding Van Gaal’s men appears to be down to the differing style of play from Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge.
He continued, “It has been another strange season. The way Manchester United play is totally different to when Sir Alex Ferguson was here. They play a different way and I just think it's a case of getting used to the system, and play the way we used to play.
“The fans are looking to always have galvanising, attacking, free-flowing football with lots of goals and when they don't get that then they are disappointed because that is what they have been brought up on. It has been an up and down season again, but we are in the top four.”