With Sunday's Manchester derby looming, FFT asked four Reds for their feelings on the Dutchman's debut campaign...
Nick Poole (@ManUnitedYouth)
I love him because... after a season of abject cluelessness under David Moyes, Van Gaal has made United at least somewhat recognisable again. Off the pitch he's been the strong hand at the helm you'd expect given his CV, and his dealings with the media have been more Ferguson-like cantankerous than Moyes-esque calamitous. On it, vastly improved team spirit was immediately evident even if better results and performances weren't, and in recent weeks the quality of football and calibre of win has started to meet expectations.
I'm not a fan of... what has seemed like excessive pragmatism at times. The aftermath of the Leicester debacle in September saw a conservatism that will never sit comfortably with most United fans, while the lack of faith in instinctive, intuitive players can seem a little over the top, especially when failing to get the best out of a genuinely world-class player like Angel Di Maria.
His best decision so far is... belatedly implementing 4-3-3, restoring Wayne Rooney to his best position up front and finally placing trust in Ander Herrera and Juan Mata. Injury to Robin van Persie may have forced the Dutchman's hand somewhat but there were other, arguably 'safer' options.
Off the pitch his dealings with the media have been more Ferguson-like cantankerous than Moyes-esque calamitous
His worst decision so far is...freezing out the best right-back at the club. Van Gaal's aversion to players playing intuitively was perhaps always likely to spell trouble for the impetuous Rafael, but he's still far and away the best we have and only two seasons removed from being as good as any in the league. It's hard to believe Van Gaal's philosophy would be sufficiently damaged by the Brazilian's occasional rashness to negate the sizeable upgrade he offers, in both and attack and defence, over Antonio Valencia.
Mitchell Jones (@Stretford_End)
I know Valencia is good at running in straight lines and kicking the ball straight into the last man, but Rafael brings some attacking flair into the team and can actually cross or shoot with accuracy. Don’t tell me he’s too indisciplined, either: Marcos Rojo, anyone?
I love him because… when Alex Ferguson left, he took that whole cult of personality with him. I don't bear any ill towards David Moyes but that was the football equivalent of replacing Winston Churchill with a wind chime. Van Gaal, in comparison, has brought a level of control and authority back into the mix and it feels like the manager once again runs the club, rather than the players or the board.
I’m not a fan of… the distinct lack of Rafael in the team. Look, I know Valencia is good at running in straight lines and kicking the ball straight into the last man, but Rafael brings some attacking flair into the team and can actually cross or shoot with accuracy. Don’t tell me he’s too indisciplined, either: Marcos Rojo, anyone? Unless he’s sleeping with Van Gaal’s daughter, there’s just no excuse.
His best decision so far is… sticking with David de Gea. There were so many questions about if the Spaniard would stick around, especially when Victor Valdes came in. Fair play to the manager, though: he relegated Valdes to the bench and De Gea has remained our saviour all season long. The only decision greater would be to hand Big Dave a blank contract and give him whatever he wants to stay.
His worst decision so far is… throwing that game against Leicester. That is what he did, wasn’t it? Because there’s no way that Manchester United would lose 5-3 from a winning position on merit, surely? It had to be a fix. United could never be that terrible. Right, people? Right? Hello?!
I love him because... he's not afraid to play our youngsters. He's famously handed several first-team debuts to academy players this season, and while that's largely been down to injuries, it's encouraging to know that he will put his faith in youth if needs be. Starting James Wilson in the Liverpool match at Old Trafford is the clearest indicator yet that if you're good enough, you'll play. It also points towards his character and ability to make big decisions without worrying about other players' reactions, another thing I love about him.
I'm not a fan of... the word 'philosophy'. He's ruined it for me.
I'm not a fan of the word 'philosophy'. He's ruined it for me.
His best decision so far is... getting rid of dead wood. The squad has changed drastically and Van Gaal has stamped his identity on it quickly. I was surprised that he was keen to get rid of Shinji Kagawa given his penchant for technically gifted players but it's hard to argue against any of his personnel decisions. I anticipate another busy summer with several players leaving and arriving as he further refines the make-up of the squad in line with what he wants to achieve on the pitch. I think we'll see some surprises in that regard.
His worst decision so far is...persisting with trying to accommodate Van Persie and Radamel Falcao in the side at the same time. Without going into the details, it just didn't work. It always felt odd that a manager famous for playing 4-3-3 was willing to deviate from what he feels is the best formation in order to accommodate two players who haven't been in the best of form this season. Thankfully, an injury to Van Persie and Falcao's continued struggles mean he's reverted back to that 4-3-3, and the side is beginning to gel. Now he just needs to get Di Maria firing on all cylinders and we're laughing.
Charles Klein (@TheBusbyBoys)
I love him because... he is a confident manager who has a system, knows how he wants his teams to play, and has a demonstrated track record of getting the sort of results that United supporters expect every year. He understands the culture of greatness that he's walked into and believes that he can only add to it, rather than diminish it like his predecessor.
I'm not a fan of... how he can almost inexplicably bench certain players, like Herrera and Falcao. While the former has been rightfully restored to the starting XI, I don't like how marginalised a figure he has made Falcao. Forcing him to play in the reserves did nothing to help the striker's confidence, and it's become quite clear that a combination of poor man-management and the Colombian's dearth of confidence will contribute to his departure.
Forcing Falcao to play in the reserves did nothing to help the striker's confidence
His best decision so far... has been to change his formation one final time to allow his best players to make a real impact. Switching to a 4-3-3 and utilising Mata as a false winger; pushing Marouane Fellaini forward to sit behind Rooney; enabling Herrera to do what he does best. It's made a marked difference and ushered in the feeling that a United win was as much of an inevitability as the sun rising in the east.
His worst decision so far... was benching Herrera. For the life of me I couldn't understand why we had seen so little of a player who'd shown more than mere flashes of talent in the summer, as well as early in the season. But his worst decision may prove his best as Herrera has used that time to adapt better to Van Gaal's system.