Van Gaal: We'd a great year - if you forget December
Louis van Gaal insisted yesterday Manchester United had enjoyed a very good 2015 achieving all their key aims - but only, he admitted, if you exclude what has proved to be the worst December in the club's history.
In four defeats and two draws in the last month of his first full calendar year in charge United were dumped out of the Champions League and slid down the league to sixth place, nine points behind joint leaders Arsenal and Leicester City.
The Dutchman's position as United manager appeared to be under growing threat following a St Stephen's Day defeat at Stoke City but a 0-0 draw against Chelsea last Monday appears to have shorn up his position.
Van Gaal, who led United to a top-four place last season, admitted that December's record had spoiled his year.
He said: "I think we have fulfilled the wish and our aim in the first season. And that ends halfway in 2015. After that we have managed to give balance to the team and that resulted in November we were first [in the Premier League].
"Then we are out of the Champions League and that gives us a big blow. When you don't assess December, it was a very good year, 2015. But you cannot do that because a year has 12 months. So I speak more about that period because we are living in that period, not January 2015."
Van Gaal has vowed to work his way through Manchester United's crisis and not allow his side to get too far adrift of the leading clubs at the top of the Premier League.
The Dutchman did his best to insist yesterday that it was business as normal.
Van Gaal, whose side will be looking for a first win in nine games against bogey side Swansea City at Old Trafford tomorrow, said: "I am doing my work. You have to do what you have to do. There are members of staff saying, 'Boss, can I can help you more'.
"I say you help me by doing the things you have to as good as possible, and then I am satisfied and that I expect also from my players.
"This is not the first club, although maybe the last club, where I have a bad period. I have had bad periods at all my clubs and I have to say the best fans are at Manchester United.
"In such a difficult period, they are applauding the performance of the players and that is fantastic. But still we need to win because we want to be at the top end of the league and not in the middle. We have to get points, otherwise the gap is too big and that is why we have to do what we have to do: work, do the things, prepare the game, perform and then evaluate the game again. That is of course much more difficult when you don't win than when you win. All the things you say as a manager is more accepted [when you win]."
Van Gaal praised his players' response to the growing pressure around his position and their own performances in an improved showing against Chelsea.
However, United again failed to score, the third time in four Old Trafford fixtures that has been the case.
Van Gaal's side have managed just 10 goals in their past 13 games and any reprieve is not likely to last long should United fail to beat a Swansea team who are fourth from bottom of the Premier League and without a permanent manager but who have beaten United in the three times they have faced them under Van Gaal.
"Swansea have been what I call my 'ghost team', having lost all three times we have played them, meaning we are looking to start this new year with what I have been told you say in England by 'breaking the duck'," added Van Gaal.
"We know it will be tough and know we have be creative and take out chances if we are going to end this run without a win. And that is the aim; to put smiles back on the faces of the staff, the players and the fans."
United have reached the halfway stage of the season with their lowest points' and goal tally since the advent of the Premier League in 1992.
Their current run represents a sorry end to the year for a side that Van Gaal has spent more than £250million trying to improve since replacing David Moyes in May 2014 after United ended the previous season in seventh place in the league, their lowest since 1990.
Independent News Service