Van Gaal: United in title race

United head into Saturday’s clash with Aston Villa at Old Trafford looking to record a fifth consecutive Premier League victory and currently sit in fourth position just eight points behind leaders Chelsea.

It is all a far cry from the early stages of the season, when Van Gaal drew criticism for his signings and frequent changes of system as United’s new-look side struggled to impose themselves – but the improvement comes as no surprise to the Dutchman.

He said: “You never know. I have said at the end we shall find out. When we had 30 points out of 11 matches at that time there was a lot of criticism but I said we should find out at the end of the season.

“It’s still a rat race and Tottenham and Liverpool are still in. Of course we have dealt them a blow, but we have to play against the first three. It can happen a lot.

“Still, we can win the title, mathematically.

“I’m not surprised. We are working day in day out and we have to see how players respond because the way I train, which I’ve explained a lot of times, is not easy for players. It’s a whole process.

“We started at the bottom, unconscious, capable and then your next step is conscious and incapable. And then it is conscious and capable.

“Maybe we are now in the last step of that process. I hope so. What I’ve seen in the last five matches I think so but we have to wait and see because if you lose two times in a row you are not so sure any more.

“I have thought after the Liverpool game after the international break that it was not the right moment but when I see my players performing in the national team, I’m very pleased. It confirms my view about players.

“Every match that a player plays can give them confidence. We trained yesterday not with the total group because they need recovery. The players that could train did a very good training session so I think we can continue in a good way against Aston Villa.

“What I’ve said already is that every team in England can beat you.”

Van Gaal also highlighted the contribution of forward Marouane Fellaini, whose physical presence has often provided a focal point for United’s attacks.

Van Gaal said: “From the first training session, he did what I asked. He was open and he performed, so I’m not surprised and he had an unlucky season because he was injured and ill a lot of times.

“When he was fit, he has always played for me, more or less. That’s also because I was looking for a balance in the team and he can give us a lot of balance. Of course, I can change him also – it depends on the qualities of the opponent.

“When he is playing like this, I can’t change him.”