LONDON • By Manchester United's lofty standards, 2015 ranks as something of an annus horribilis.
Not only did the last 12 months bring no trophy to Old Trafford, but the English football club also ended the year eliminated from the Champions League, struggling to stay in touch with the Premier League title race and on their worst run of results for almost three decades.
United's embattled manager, Louis van Gaal, does not quite go along with that.
The 64-year-old might be aware that his position remains intensely vulnerable, thanks to that streak of eight matches without a win and a sense of discontent among the fans, but he nevertheless feels 2015 was "a very good year" - as long as you do not count December.
"We have fulfilled the (main) wish and our aim in the first season, which ended halfway through this year," he said, pointing to his success in restoring United to the Champions League when asked to reflect on his first full calendar year in charge.
11 GOOD MONTHS
So, when you do not count December, it was a very good year. But you cannot do that, because a year has 12 months. Now we are in that (disappointing) period.
LOUIS VAN GAAL , saying that December was the only bad period in 2015
"After that, we have managed to give balance to the team. That resulted, in October and November (in the team being) first in the Premier League.
"So, when you do not count December, it was a very good year. But you cannot do that, because a year has 12 months. Now we are in that (disappointing) period. We are out of the Champions League, and that was a big blow for us."
His task is to extricate his players from their slump as quickly as possible. That United's goalless draw with a Chelsea side still skirting the relegation zone was seen, broadly, as a sign of progress is the most illustrative sign of how far the Dutchman's team have fallen since their previous win in any competition at Watford two months ago.
That point was enough to alleviate the immediate pressure on van Gaal, but failure to build on it with a win against Swansea City at Old Trafford today will serve to negate that slight improvement.
The manager would, therefore, be forgiven for approaching the game with his own immediate career prospects foremost in his mind.
It is a measure of how resolute he is in his belief that his tenure at Old Trafford will come good that he is concentrating on the need to win, so as not to lose further ground on those sides leading the Premier League's title race.
Despite their struggles, van Gaal's team are still only nine points behind Arsenal and Leicester City, the league's leaders halfway through the season. That gap is not sufficient to disabuse the Dutchman of his belief that his side can still win the league, but he knows they cannot afford to cede further ground.
"We need to win," he said. "At the end of the season, we want to be in the top of the league, so we have to win. We have to have points. That is why we have to work, prepare the game, perform in the game, and then evaluate the game again.
"That is much more difficult when you do not win than when you do. All the things you say as a manager are more accepted (when you do win). We have lost three games to Swansea, and you always have to analyse why you have lost and then continue with that same vicious circle of working.
"We know we have to be creative and take our chances if we are going to end this run. That is the aim, to put smiles back on the faces of the staff, the players and the fans."
THE TIMES, LONDON
MANCHESTER UNITED V SWANSEA
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