The Red Devils lost 1-0 to Southampton on Sunday and the Dutchman now has an identical record to his predecessor with 37 points from 21 Premier League games
When Louis Van Gaal was appointed as Manchester United manager, some Dutch journalists wrote lengthy articles warning the English press to expect fireworks and portraying him as arrogant, aggressive and unpredictable.
He has been more like a cuddly teddy bear since his appointment but that explosive side of his character started to creep through on Sunday when he was asked why, after spending over €180 million last summer, he has the same return of points as David Moyes after 21 games last season.
“So you have waited until this moment when you can put this question to me,” Van Gaal said. “All these weeks, you have waited to put this question, the moment I have the same points as David Moyes, that I haven’t made the team better.”
His answer, more than anything, pointed to an insecurity in Van Gaal.
The general perception of his time in charge so far has been that United have improved, that Van Gaal has settled a fractious dressing room, greatly improved the squad (at considerable cost) and introduced a style more in keeping with the club’s traditions.
But as 75,000 at Old Trafford watched United desperately hoof the ball up to Marouane Fellaini in the final moments of Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Southampton, the reality check must have hit home.
It was a Moyesian nightmare and a wake-up call for a manager and group of players that have arrogantly been talking up a possible title challenge with no foundation whatsoever.
If a David Moyes’ side had failed to produce a single shot on target in a home match a year ago, the Scot would have been hammered.
So Van Gaal deserves the same, especially when his return of 37 points is the same as Moyes at the same stage last season.
Everyone always said that you don’t want to be the man replacing Sir Alex Ferguson, you want to be the man after that.
Van Gaal has been given an easy ride this season and although the match-up has seemed like the ‘perfect marriage’ at times and that the 63-year-old talks and acts like a Manchester United manager and that the improvement on the field as been obvious, but maybe he has been fooling all of us.
Moyes found himself in seventh place with the same points total last season and was considered out of his depth, United are currently fourth and still on course to return to the Champions League next season.
If Van Gaal had replaced Ferguson, he would be under extreme pressure now. He is fortunate that Moyes broke so many unenviable record lows during his disastrous nine months at the club, so that he doesn’t have to.
Teams are still coming to United believing they can win, the famous fear factor has evaporated. So many clubs won there for the first time in decades last season, but that has carried on this term with Swansea’s first win at Old Trafford since 1972 and now Southampton’s first since 1988.
The excuses about players settling in are largely irrelevant when you consider that Southampton used seven new signings on Sunday and had no such trouble, nevermind when you factor in the quality of the likes of Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao.
The decision to leave Falcao out of the matchday 18 against Southampton was damning for the player but it reflects even more poorly on Van Gaal that he should select three defenders on the bench but totally omit an expensive and reputed forward in a game when United lacked so much attacking threat.
Nor can the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss hide behind the excuse of injuries when, finally, he has almost a fully fit squad with only Ashley Young unavailable in Sunday’s defeat.
Most worrying has been the lack of leadership, particularly in the spine of the team at centre-back and in central midfield.
The sight of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones playing from the back is scary for any United supporter and it is clear why Van Gaal wants the club’s spending splurge to continue with moves for Mats Hummels or Diego Godin in that position.
Likewise, his desire to bring in Kevin Strootman in central midfield is well known and the Dutchman would add some much-needed dynamism and leadership in that area.
Because for all Van Gaal’s complaints that United “dominated” against a Southampton side that barely created any chances, he can hardly moan about bad luck. He must know that he is indebted to David De Gea for bailing out his defenders with so many fantastic saves this season.
Van Gaal acts the part and he has the ambition, pedigree and self-assuredness required from a man in charge of the 20-time Premier League champions.
He has claimed that next season we will see a real Louis van Gaal team and that United will be challenging for the title.
Right now, his focus must be on securing a top-four finish because anything less would be a disaster, especially after their unprecedented summer trolley dash.
The simple truth – and now it’s a fact – is that right now Van Gaal’s United are no better than they were under Moyes. And that has to change.