By Ed Osmond
LONDON (Reuters) - Charismatic, assured and meticulous, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has quickly stamped his authority on a club desperate to return to the summit of English football.
After a dismal season under David Moyes, United acted quickly to appoint the experienced Dutchman to restore them to former glories and he has made an oustanding start.
Although critical of the demands of a long pre-season tour of the United States, Van Gaal led United to five wins out of five against opponents of the calibre of Real Madrid, AS Roma Inter Milan and Liverpool.
He decided to adopt the 5-3-2 formation he deployed with such success to lead the Netherlands to third place in the World Cup and the United players immediately embraced it.
Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young, a frustrated and peripheral figure under Moyes, relished the demands of the wing-back role so crucial to the success of the system.
Van Gaal made it clear from the start that Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would be his two main strikers with Juan Mata operating in the number 10 position just behind them.
The diminutive Spaniard relished the responsibility of playing in his favoured position and with compatriot Ander Herrera providing tenacity and vision behind him the United midfield looked a cohesive unit once again.
A defence shorn of experienced stalwarts Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra also looked compact.
Only four goals were conceded in five matches, three of them penalties, and Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling adapted quickly to the demands of the new formation.
Van Gaal will surely sign at least one experienced central defender, with German Mats Hummels and Belgian Thomas Vermaelen reported targets, but with Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea now firmly established the United rearguard has a solid look.
One of Van Gaal's most important attributes has been the confident way he has dealt with the media, a welcome relief for United fans after Moyes's haunted-looking and baffling performances in front of the cameras.
The 62-year-old Dutchman exuded confidence in his first Old Trafford news conference, recognising the size and rich history of the organisation he was joining embodied by former United player and current director Bobby Charlton.
He was not afraid to criticise the tour schedule nor to change the arrangements made, ordering officials to book the players into a Holiday Inn closer to their training facilities in Los Angeles rather than staying at the opulent Beverly Hills Plaza hotel.
Van Gaal knows he still has plenty of work to do, not least in the transfer market with Shaw and Herrera the only major signings made since Moyes left.
He promised to give the existing squad the chance to show what they were capable of on the tour of the U.S. and some players, notably Young and striker Javier Hernandez, boosted their chances of staying at Old Trafford.
For others the writing is on the wall.
Shinji Kagawa, now clearly second-choice playmaker behind Mata, will almost certainly be sold along with midfielders Marouane Fellaini, Nani, Anderson and probably Tom Cleverley.
An imposing and experienced central defender is a priority along with another combative midfielder, although Darren Fletcher impressed in the U.S. and Michael Carrick has yet to return from injury.
Van Persie did not go on the tour following his exertions at the World Cup but Rooney, looking fit and sharp, will be a vital player for United, who won the Premier League title 13 times under Alex Ferguson between 1993 and 2013.
Van Gaal has a tough choice to make about who will be his captain and although he may appear likely to favour his compatriot Van Persie, he is well aware of Rooney's importance to the team and may decide to hand the Englishman the honour.
The opening league game of the season is at home against Swansea City.
Twelve months ago Moyes faced the same opponents in his first competitive match as manager and a 4-1 win in Wales proved to be a completely false dawn as United ended up seventh in the table.
Van Gaal has the swagger and the substance to bring much more lasting success back to Manchester United.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)