With Man United sitting third in the Premier League Old Trafford’s mood has changed drastically since the sacking of David Moyes in April last year.
Louis van Gaal has been touted as having turned the corner during his side’s ongoing 11-match unbeaten run. There has even been increasing talk of a possible title challenge.
However, the Dutchman can consider himself exceptionally lucky: his record is arguably worse than Moyes’ and comes on the back of an unprecedented summer spending spree.
After spending £150million on players including Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, one might expect more than a three point improvement after 20 league games.
Yet that is where United lie: should they lose to an in form Southampton on Sunday they will boast the same points total Moyes achieved 21 games into his doomed United tenure.
The Scot, who was criticised and at times undermined throughout his ten-month tenure, is now rebuilding his career in Spain after fans and media alike branded him not up to United’s standards.
Van Gaal arrived on the back of a fantastic World Cup with the Netherlands, holding the kind of CV that Moyes, at this point, could only dream of.
Despite this it was the former Everton boss who was a penalty shoot-out away from the League Cup final and the Dutchman whose side were humiliated 4-0 by League One MK Dons.
Add in Moyes’ Champions League quarter-final defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich and one might begin to question who has actually done the better job.
Had Van Gaal taken the job last season they would currently be sixth, not third, with their current points tally, a position that would surely have invited pressure on a man of his reputation.
Last season the Red Devils were seventh at the same point having won ten games, scoring 33 goals and conceding 24 in the process.
Van Gaal’s squad have fared little better; they have also won ten games and, despite the arrivals of Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, have scored just one additional goal.
Although the defence has fared marginally better, conceding just 20 goals (five of them against Leicester), this has not been the result of good performances.
Time and time again opposition strikers have failed to punish miserable United defending, allowing the exceptional David De Gea to redeem his leaky backline.
Victories over West Ham, Liverpool, Southampton and Arsenal could, and probably should, all have ended in defeat.
In fact their elevated league position can largely be attributed to underperforming opposition.
Arsenal, despite the excellent Alexis Sanchez, are misfiring and Liverpool are a shadow of the side that finished runners-up last year.
Meanwhile Everton and Tottenham, who both finished comfortably ahead of United last year, have struggled to replicate last season’s performances.
Granted Van Gaal has won titles with Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich but, reputation aside, his United tenure is yet to surpass Moyes’.
In his short time at Real Sociedad Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor has shown his clear ability as a manager, particularly in claiming a memorable 1-0 victory over Barcelona last week.
However, United, used to the success provided by Ferguson, underestimated the challenge facing his replacement and acted swiftly to end Moyes’ reign less than 12 months into a six-year deal.
Even the vastly experienced and successful Van Gaal had to go back on his word after mistakenly claiming he could resolve the clubs problems in just three months.
As we enter the season’s second half and head towards Ferguson’s self-labelled ‘squeaky bum time’ the Dutchman will know recent results only paper over the large cracks at Old Trafford.
Reputation cannot protect a manager indefinitely and fans will turn if the club do not start to challenge for silverware in the near future.
Main image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.