31/12/2014 11:55 GMT | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Manchester United Will Return to the Top of the Tree in 2015

It's been a rough old year for Manchester United, hasn't it? They've had three managers - maybe two and a half, but it feels like Ryan Giggs deserves a mention - failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in the Premier League era and apparently, were hit with some kind of mythical curse which crippled all of their defenders.

Despite all of this though, the Premier League's biggest team are ending 2014 with a spring in their step and a clear pair of eyes focussed on the new year ahead.

Everything is starting to fall into place for Louis van Gaal and co, slowly but surely. It's easy to glance at the numbers and note that, for example, they've picked up the same number of points as 'runaway leaders' Chelsea since mid-September, but that doesn't even tell half the story.

The Blues have looked good. Better than good, they look every penny of their £17bn squad (NB some figures may be exaggerated). United have looked good too, now and again. But most of the time they look like someone's left a load of week-old Subway sandwiches in football shirts and thrown them onto a pitch. Players like Falcao might be the pricey, stylish Meatball Marinara of the Subway world, but a mouldy sandwich is still a mouldy sandwich.

Bad. They've looked bad. That might've been easier to say.

But they've been winning. And they're looking better with every week that passes. Turns out that a team with Falcao, Robin van Persie and Angel di Maria will turn up with goals in most games and David de Gea's incredible form at the back has turned the flashy losses from a few months ago into wins.

Defenders are starting to return from injury now, with Phil Jones' restoration to the side one of the biggest boosts of the season and it's no surprise that everything has started to come together since his recovery.

United won't win the league this season. They're too far behind and while there's a chance that Chelsea or City could slip up enough to let them in, the chances of both clubs having sizeable blips is pretty small. From here until May, results barely matter for United - this is all about building for next season.

That gives Louis van Gaal and co two transfer windows before crunch time - more than long enough to bring in the pair of defenders that will complete the squad. That's not a typo or an oversight - this squad is two defenders away from full strength.

United won't win the league this season, but if they find those two defenders, they'll be top of the league this time next year. With the second half of this season to continue to let the attack gel, providing a little more time for van Gaal to continue to work his magic, Old Trafford is about to become a terrifying place to visit again.

As a Premier League fan, the prospect of a massive, three-way battle for the title between City, United and Chelsea - with Arsenal sticking their noses in every now and again - is mouth-wateringly exciting. The top tier without a strong United feels weird.

As a fan of a top-half club though, this is a nightmare. United's apparent demise freed up an extra European spot for the Evertons and Tottenhams to fight over and everyone had started to await the visit of United with excitement instead of fear. It's swiftly going to head back to the old days, however, of are we going to be beaten by two, or three this time?

Nobody can ever fill the Fergie role at Old Trafford. Not only is the man a complete one-off, but the game has moved on since he was appointed. David Moyes tried to compromise a little and fell flat on his face. Over and over again. While people laughed at him and tweeted #MoyesOut.

Louis van Gaal was savvy enough - and stubborn enough - to know that the only way to tackle this job was head-on, in his own way. He knew that the slow start was almost inevitable and refused to let it impact on his style. Manchester United makes strong men - and strong men make Manchester United.

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