Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has defended Louis van Gaal, telling the Daily Mail that there was "never any chance" of Manchester United challenging for the Premier League title this season.
Van Gaal took over as United manager last summer after guiding Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup, and went on to spend 153 million pounds on new signings.
Despite the Red Devils sitting fourth in the table and through to the FA Cup quarterfinals, the Dutch coach's possession tactics have been routinely criticised -- with West Ham boss Sam Allardyce referring to Van Gaal's team as "long-ball United."
While Carragher believes United must mount a serious title challenge next season, he wrote in his Mail column: "When Louis van Gaal was unveiled last summer, what position did you imagine Manchester United would be in going into the final 10 games?
"If you envisaged them leading the title race, you would have been kidding yourself. There was never any chance of United finishing in front of Chelsea and Manchester City this season, not even after they spent [money] on new players and recruited a coach with a distinguished reputation.
"They finished seventh last season and needed to make big improvements but the way it is being made out, you would think they were the only club who bought big when nothing could have been further from the truth. Van Gaal isn't the only manager to get financial assistance.
"Manchester City won the title, then spent 88 million pounds on new players. Liverpool finished second, then invested 114.8 million pounds. Chelsea have sold well but have paid out 112.8 million pounds since last year. Arsenal's outlay for the same period has been 95 million pounds. United's spending shouldn't come into arguments.
"I keep hearing [criticism] of Van Gaal, how his team do not play 'the United way' and regular accusations that they have been lucky. But he keeps getting results. If Chelsea grind out a victory, Jose Mourinho gets praised, so when United do the same, why doesn't Van Gaal?
"... What we are seeing -- slower possession and the readiness to go more direct to Marouane Fellaini -- is not transition. This is now United's style and, so far, it has got them into a position that is just about where they should be -- and on course to achieve the remit Van Gaal was given."
Van Gaal faces a difficult run-in this season if his side are to cement Champions League qualification and lift the FA Cup, but Carragher says his impressive record against the top sides this season will give United confidence going forward.
He continued: "True, they have a number of difficult tests in the next few weeks, with trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge looming, as well as home games with Manchester City and Arsenal. They have done well in these fixtures so far, winning at the Emirates, beating Liverpool and drawing with Chelsea.
"There is also the FA Cup quarterfinal against Arsene Wenger's men on Monday, which could be crucial to helping them achieve their aim. The FA Cup will be second on Van Gaal's priority list but if he was able to deliver silverware, as well as steering United into the top four, it would provide everyone around the club -- players, supporters, directors -- with huge belief going forward."
Carragher believes that despite last summer's huge outlay, Van Gaal deserves more time to rebuild United -- but stresses he must take the blame if performances do not improve from the 2015-16 onwards.
He added: "A couple of months ago, I said Van Gaal was lucky not to be getting the negative press that came David Moyes's way, even though their results were similar, but he had made his own luck by virtue of his impressive CV and the reputation he has within the game.
"There was also a key difference. Moyes had taken over the champions; Van Gaal had come into a club that finished 15 points off fourth place. He was almost starting again. Next year, it will be different, as his remit will be to challenge for the title, given that United will reinforce their squad again.
"If they are in this position in 12 months, then I will understand any criticism aimed at Van Gaal. But if he leads them into the Champions League, he will have achieved his aim for the season. If adds the FA Cup, his first year in Manchester will be a big success."
Source: ESPN FC