Van Gaal has second in his sights
Louis van Gaal believes Manchester United can still climb above Manchester City and finish second in the Barclays Premier League.
Van Gaal won a trophy in his first year at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but his chances of achieving the same feat at United are remote.
United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal on Monday and they sit 10 points behind Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea, who have a match in hand.
But with games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea to come over the next few weeks, Van Gaal knows United have an opportunity to move away from the rivals lurking just outside the top four.
And despite recent criticism of his team, Van Gaal also believes United can even overcome the five-point gap that separates them from their cross-city rivals.
"The coming matches are very decisive," the United manager said.
"We are so close to a lot of clubs. We can be second or third. It is not a big difference, I believe.
"Manchester United have to be one of the teams who have to play in the Champions League."
Van Gaal remarked earlier this season that he owned an "iron shield" to protect him from any criticism that comes his way.
Despite being fourth in the table and losing just three of his last 23 games, Van Gaal has been criticised for his style of play.
Paul Scholes unleashed his latest volley on Friday, remarking in his Independent column that some of United's play in their defeat to Arsenal was "prehistoric".
In fairness, the former United midfielder said he was confident Van Gaal would be a success at Old Trafford and the manager himself seems pretty sure about that too.
All he needs is for his players to start reproducing the kind of form they have shown in training on the pitch.
"We have the confidence to reach the goal we set at the beginning of the season," said Van Gaal, who was told last summer that his target this year was a top-four finish.
"I have a lot of confidence in my players. From what I see in training sessions, we have progressed. But there is a big difference between training sessions and matches.
" We have to wait for the big victory. Then, maybe, we shall have more spirit and also more confidence to win our games."
Radamel Falcao has been one of the biggest disappointments of Van Gaal's reign so far.
United beat a host of their rivals to sign the Colombian on loan from Monaco last summer, but he has only scored three goals since and had to play 72 minutes for the Under-21 side on Tuesday night.
The Dutchman insists the idea was to help the striker rebuild his shattered confidence, rather than punish him.
''That is one of the aspects that I let my players play in the second squad,'' Van Gaal said.
''It is not a humiliation."
Falcao failed to find the net in the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
And Van Gaal did not appear overly impressed with the striker's performance.
He said: ''Falcao did not play his best match in the second team but he has tried his utmost best. I cannot ask more from players.''
The former Ajax coach dodged a question on whether United would exercise their right to buy the forward for £43.2million in May.
"That is a discussion I have with (executive vice-chairman) Ed Woodward, not with you," Van Gaal said at a press conference on Friday.
Van Gaal also rejected the opportunity to discuss how close he came to signing for Sunday's opponents Tottenham last summer when they sacked Tim Sherwood.
"I don't want to answer that type of question any more," he said.
"It is not interesting anymore. It is the past and we live in the present.
"(Mauricio) Pochettino is working there and I am working here. I am very pleased I am working here and Pochettino should be very pleased he is working there."
Angel di Maria's dismissal against Arsenal means he is suspended this weekend and so is Jonny Evans, who is two matches into a six-game ban for spitting at Newcastle's Papiss Cisse.
Defender Marcos Rojo is a doubt with a groin problem and Van Gaal confirmed Robin van Persie will be out for at least the next two games as he is yet to overcome the ankle injury he suffered against Swansea.