Louis van Gaal says Manchester United can win the title - and his record shows he must be taken seriously

Under-pressure Dutchman has made a habit of inspiring late-season title charges, and with United seven points behind Arsenal he will believe he can do so again at Old Trafford this season

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The Independent Football

Louis van Gaal may not have convinced too many people outside Old Trafford that Manchester United are still in the title race, but a glance at his managerial record at some of Europe’s finest clubs shows his assertion at the weekend should be taken seriously.

United’s 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday moved Van Gaal’s side back up to fifth in the Premier League table, seven points adrift of the leaders, Arsenal. “We can overcome that,” said Van Gaal, “We can do it because we show every week we can do it.”

Just as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were renowned for their ability to slip into gear in the second half of the season, Van Gaal is a manager whose success has often been built on his team’s form after Christmas.

Van Gaal has won seven domestic league titles in his distinguished managerial career, and in five of those campaigns success was built on his team’s form after the mid-season break. Take, for example, the second of his three Eredivisie titles with Ajax in 1994-95. Van Gaal’s side had racked up 11 wins from 15 games before Christmas, but it was a run of 12 wins in 13 games between January and May that sealed the title by 36 points.

After retaining the title again in 1996, Van Gaal moved to Barcelona in 1997, taking over from Bobby Robson, and immediately guided the Catalans to two league titles.

His first season at the Nou Camp is similar in many ways to this season at Old Trafford – indifferent league form, a Champions League exit before Christmas and difficulties expressing his ‘philosophy’ amid unrest from the supporters.

Nonetheless, in the second half of that campaign Van Gaal worked his magic again, this time inspiring a run of nine wins in 10 games to win the title by eight points.

It was a similar tale again the next season as Barcelona won back-to-back titles. This time it was a run of 19 wins from 23 games, a remarkable sequence that saw Van Gaal’s side canter to the title – 11 points ahead of rivals Real Madrid.

What is perhaps most intriguing is that Van Gaal inspired these late-season surges across four teams in three testing divisions. In 2008-09 Van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar broke the Ajax-PSV Eindhoven monopoly on the Eredivisie.

Between January and April AZ won 11 and drew two league games – only suffering defeat after the title was wrapped up with three weeks of the season remaining.

In 2010 the pattern repeated again, as Van Gaal became the first ever Dutch coach to win the Bundesliga title. Predictably, it was a storming 12-game unbeaten run that made the difference as they won the title with two weeks to spare.

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Now at Old Trafford Van Gaal finds himself in a position he may actually relish despite all the criticism that has come his way.

The win at Liverpool has eased the pressure a little more and United are in a prime position to make a title push that was once their trademark.

Many will write them off, but Van Gaal’s record over 25 years of management shows that when he talks about the title, he usually delivers.

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