09/10/2014 12:53 BST | Updated 09/12/2014 05:59 GMT

Has Louis van Gaal Turned Manchester United Into Title Dark Horses?

In a way, Louis van Gaal has a lot to thank David Moyes for. If it weren't for the Scot lowering the bar like a particularly enthusiastic assistant at a limbo dancing competition, Van Gaal would've been under much heavier fire for his side's dreadful opening month of the season.

As it was, there were still some questions raised about the transfer policy - though they were directed more at Ed Woodward than the Dutchman - but no more than a few rolled eyes and a "here we go again" were muttered. The feeling was very much that Van Gaal had inherited a poor side that was low on confidence, and the failings weren't his.

That period of grace came in pretty handy when he found himself looking back on two draws and two defeats in his first month, ending August still without a competitive win to his name as United manager.

Then, though, came September and of all of the summer signings began to come into the side and gel. It was a rich list that contained Falcao, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera, and Van Gaal has adapted well to fit them all in.

From being rooted in the bottom half of the table just over a month ago, United have clawed their way up to fourth in the league, leapfrogging the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool. "Crisis club" indeed.

But as Van Gaal has been quick to point out, this isn't a United side that's played at their best yet. They're starting to come together up front - 11 goals in their last four games is a pretty handy return - but the defence still looks shaky.

The main difference between now and a month ago is that it looks like they've remembered how to win. The Leicester game was an anomaly, the wins over West Ham and Everton that followed showed that the grit is back. Things could so easily have fallen apart against West Ham after Rooney's sending off but they stayed positive, organised and ground out the result like a Red Devils team of old. Under Moyes, that would've been a different story.

But are they title contenders? It's hard to see any side competing with Chelsea this season, but United are now only three points behind second placed City, and there's nothing to suggest they can't pass them.

This is clearly not a vintage United team, but almost every side in the league has a massive weak spot. City look beatable, Arsenal rolled over when put under pressure on the weekend and Liverpool and Spurs have faults too numerous to list.

The fact is that should Chelsea slip up, Van Gaal will absolutely make sure that his side are right there to capitalise.

Things are getting better, too. In Patrick McNair they look to have one of the youth team finds of the season after his assured performances against the Hammers and Everton, and Phil Jones looks like coming back from injury after the international break, which could finally give the side a settled, experienced centre-back pair.

Falcao looks like he's beginning to find his feet, while fellow new signing Di Maria is absolutely tearing up the pitch with three goals and three assists from his five appearances. Daley Blind has been an excellent calming influence in front of the defence, while Rafael is finally starting to look like a top class right wing-back.

There are bugs in the system. Wayne Rooney's 'guaranteed' starting place could cause a few headaches for Van Gaal once he returns from suspension after an indifferent start to the season, while Robin van Persie hasn't been in the form of Di Maria and co.

There's a long way to go in the season and any one of a thousand things could trip United up along the way, but for now it looks like the Old Trafford faithful have something to believe in after a tough year or so. Remember - Van Gaal usually takes six months to settle into a new club. He's just getting started.

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