Van Gaal: United on the rise
Louis van Gaal hopes the beginning of the new lunar year will herald the return of the Manchester United of old.
United face Swansea on Saturday for the first time since they ruined Van Gaal's debut in the home dugout at Old Trafford six months ago.
United went into the opening weekend of the season on the back of a perfect pre-season tour in which they beat the Los Angeles Galaxy, Inter Milan, Roma, Real Madrid and Liverpool.
Winning the International Champions Cup was no big achievement for Van Gaal, but the United boss must have been impressed with the performances of his team, which were personified by destruction and pace - two hallmarks of the club's most successful manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The upbeat feeling around the squad was punctured, though, when they lost 2-1 to the Swans in their first competitive match.
Van Gaal said after the final whistle that the confidence of his team would be ''smashed'' by the defeat, but he feels United are starting to hit their peak again now despite some indifferent performances of late.
''We came from the United States where we had won everything, so that was a big shock (to lose against Swansea),'' the United manager said.
''After that we lost a lot of points even though we were the better team, because we couldn't score enough at that time.
''I think that the confidence at this moment is the same as (after the tour). When you see the scores of the last 19 or 20 matches we are the best team in the league, so that is why I think confidence is also high like it was at the beginning.
''The players know and have experience of playing in the system with my philosophy.''
Confidence has never been a problem for Van Gaal, of course. This is a man who put himself at centre stage during Bayern Munich's Bundesliga celebrations in 2010 when he grabbed the microphone and whipped up the crowd with a volley of stirring messages from the balcony of the town hall while wearing traditional Bavarian dress.
The Dutchman once said he possesses an "iron shield" to protect himself from criticism and he wants his players to adopt the same approach.
In Van Gaal's eyes, it is the media which is responsible for ramping up criticism of his side.
"The media is always critical," Van Gaal said at a press conference on Friday.
"It's your part of the game. That is your role, so we have to manage that and we manage that fantastically, I believe.
"You always criticise, but it is very important that we still believe in winning a title, that we are improving in the process, that's not so easy.
"The credit I get is from the players, the highest credit that I can get."
Van Gaal, who has lost just once since the first week of November, has more pressing issues on his mind than criticism of his team.
The Dutchman, who was in a playful mood on Friday, felt it necessary to stop halfway through one of his answers and stare down the barrel of the TV camera to wish the club's Chinese fans a happy new year.
"Yesterday the Chinese year has started a new year, the year of the goat," said Van Gaal, who is an avid fan of Chinese food.
"I want to say to the Chinese fans 'Happy New Year' that we are living also with you, Chinese fans, happy new year."
Van Gaal also let out a roar of laughter when informed over 80 per cent of those polled by the Manchester Evening News said they were happy with United's progress so far under the former Barcelona boss.
"Over 80 per cent?!" Van Gaal boomed.
"That is unbelievable! (That comes) in spite of your criticism, fantastic! Thank you."
Van Gaal confirmed Robin van Persie and Phil Jones have overcome their injury troubles and are back for the trip to the Liberty Stadium.
Michael Carrick remains sidelined by a calf injury he suffered last month, but Van Gaal says the midfielder is close to a return.
''Only Carrick is still injured. I think he shall train with the group next week,'' Van Gaal told MUTV.