Take a glance at the league table and one might understandably assume that everything is a whole lot better at Manchester United.
And if we were purely looking at results, this would be a fair enough assumption.
After all, under David Moyes last season, the Red Devils finished seventh in the league, failed to make any meaningful ground in any of the other competitions they were involved in and generally looked like they were incapable of playing good football.
The trouble for United fans, is that although their side are higher up the league, there are still serious question marks over their ability to win football matches and win them well, and until these questions are answered with one superb display, they’ll no doubt continue to hang over the team.
Take Saturday’s drab 1-1 draw with Aston Villa for example. United were strong favourites, having won six games in a row, and yet they were unable to vanquish a weak Villa side on a grey afternoon in Birmingham. This was not a performance befitting genuine title challengers.
There is a feeling that United are simply inhabiting the spot of ‘best of the rest’ and whilst this may be an appropriate tag, it is perhaps not a tag that the United owners would desire having sanctioned an almighty splash-out in last summer’s transfer window. Simply put, when you buy players for many, many millions of pounds, people expect better. Fans expect better. An uninspiring, listless draw against the team who are 12th in the league is not that.
Van Gaal’s work to bring United back into the Champions League places has rightly been championed, but there still remains very genuine questions marks over whether the Dutchman has what it takes to turn his side into a side that can compete with the top-of-the-league behemoths Chelsea and Man City.
If he can’t, and United become another side whose only aim is to finish in the top four, it seems unlikely that van Gaal’s tenure will be a lengthy one. For a club like Manchester United, Christmas is traditionally the time when they are sweeping one and all before them. Right now, they’re playing court jester to Chelsea and City’s king, and having spent more than both of them in the summer without recouping money from player sales, the pressure is on to make the step up in the courthouse. Let’s watch this space to see whether they can deliver.