Hughes a Van Gaal fan
Stoke manager Mark Hughes believes Louis van Gaal is the "strong figurehead" Manchester United need and insists the Red Devils can still win the title this season.
United are unbeaten since November 2 and have won seven of their last nine league matches ahead of their trip to the Britannia Stadium on New Year's Day.
That run has seen Van Gaal's side climb to third and Hughes, who played 467 times for United, believes the Dutchman is starting to make his mark at Old Trafford.
"Suddenly he seems to be the right figurehead for the club," Hughes said.
"He's the guy you sense they need given last year was a time of transition for them.
"They're still going through that process to a certain extent so they need a strong person at the head of the club and he certainly gives that impression."
No manager has used more players in the Barclays Premier League this season than Van Gaal, who has handed appearances to 26 of his first-team squad so far.
Despite United's excellent run of results, their performances have not always been convincing and Hughes believes Van Gaal is still working out his best team and style of play.
"It's still early days," Hughes said.
"Van Gaal seems to talk about his philosophy a lot and any philosophy you have as a manager takes time to instil.
"He's changed personnel, given guys who were out in the cold another opportunity, changing shape and formations.
"That takes time, it takes time for the players to take information on board and perhaps he's clearing his mind for the way he wants to go long-term, only time will tell."
Consecutive wins over Everton and West Brom have pushed Stoke up to 11th in the table, six points behind sixth place.
Hughes is delighted with the Potters' progress and wants to add United to an impressive list of scalps this season that already includes Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton.
"2014 has been great for us - I think we've picked up more points in the calendar year than any other Stoke team in the Premier League," Hughes said.
"But United are a good team, it's up to us to ask questions of them.
"Our record against the top teams has been good and they'll know they will be in for a tough game.
"It's a difficult place to come if you're a top team and we need to make sure that continues."
Stoke striker Bojan Krkic is a major doubt for the game, though.
Bojan came off with a hamstring injury in the second half of Stoke's 1-0 victory at Everton on Boxing Day and the 24-year-old underwent a scan on Tuesday.
Phil Bardsley missed last weekend's 2-0 win over West Brom with an ankle problem and is likely to be absent again while Stephen Ireland (knee), Victor Moses (thigh) and Pete Odemwingie (knee) are all out.
Van Gaal has been telling Manchester United's players to think of beating Stoke while they are in bed.
United will make it eight wins from 10 matches on Thursday if they beat Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.
The idea of travelling to Staffordshire for a lunch-time kick-off on New Year's Day may not appeal to many people - particularly those who enjoyed a heavy night seeing in the new year.
But Van Gaal is relishing the opportunity of gaining ground on Manchester City and Chelsea who play Sunderland and Tottenham respectively later in the day.
Van Gaal took little notice of Chelsea and City's slip-ups last weekend - United themselves failed to take advantage as they drew at Spurs - and the Dutchman insists only his players will decide whether they become genuine title contenders in the coming weeks.
"You have to always do it by yourself and not depend on results of the opponent," the United manager said.
"You have to be busy with yourself, with your preparation, and the imagination of the game.
"All the players have to do that - dream of the game already, you have to play the game already in your bed."
Adnan Januzaj and Ander Herrera could return from illness and injury respectively for the Stoke match and Angel di Maria may feature after Van Gaal played down the seriousness of a pelvic injury.
"He's coming back. It's not serious," Van Gaal said.