Marouane Fellaini
Fellaini has become a very important player at Manchester United during Van Gaal's short time in charge.Getty Images

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has heaped praise upon Marouane Fellaini, admitting that he cannot consider dropping the midfielder while he is in such good form.

Having become the lone permanent signing of David Moyes' first and only summer transfer window at Old Trafford at a hefty cost of £27.5m, Fellaini faltered badly under pressure during a hugely disappointing 2013/14 season, leading many to doubt that he would stay at the club for very long.

Indeed, the arrivals of Daley Blind, Angel di Maria and Ander Herrera prior to the start of the current campaign only seemed to increase the likelihood that the Belgian would struggle to compete for a starting berth under Van Gaal. Yet he has defied those lowly expectations by becoming arguably one of Manchester United's most essential performers over recent months.

A goal in the comfortable 3-0 home victory over Tottenham in March was the least Fellaini deserved for another fine performance and Liverpool's lack of sufficient answers to his power and influence contributed heavily to their 2-1 defeat at Anfield last time out.

Successful adaptation

While it is yet to be properly determined if Fellaini's strength and uncompromising physicality is best utilised in the long-term in a defensive midfield capacity or a more advanced role supporting a lone striker, Van Gaal clearly recognises the effort the former Everton enforcer has made in order to fully adapt to his style of play.

"It is only the player [who has made this happen]. The manager, staff and the players are helping him, but he is the main reason, by himself," he told MUTV.

"Another thing I've said many times is that he was late back when I first saw him [because of the World Cup]. I'd heard a lot about him and from the first training session, he did what I asked of him. I said 'you have to do this' and he was open and wanted to perform that, I'm not surprised [by his form].

"He had an unlucky season [last season] because he was injured and ill a lot of times, but when he's been fit he's always played for me, more or less. I was looking for balance in the team, and he can bring that. Of course, I can change things depending on our opponent, but at the minute I can't change him when he's playing like this."

Although he has not always been afforded the respect he deserves throughout his seven-year stint in English football, Fellaini is a hugely popular figure back in his native Belgium and he contributed heavily to his country's hopes of reaching Euro 2016 this week with goals in the 5-0 trouncing of Cyprus and the 1-0 win over Israel in Jerusalem.

He will start for Manchester United against Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa on 4 April, although Van Gaal has confirmed that Robin van Persie will miss that fixture having yet to fully recover from an ankle problem.

Aiming for the Champions League

Chris Smalling is likely to be sidelined through illness, however, while England colleague Luke Shaw is available for selection once again following a hamstring injury.

Fourth-place Manchester United, looking to qualify for the Champions League this season following a one-year absence, are currently eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea heading into the last eight games.

While in reality they have little chance of winning the title, Van Gaal appeared reluctant to concede that this side are no longer in the running.

"You never know. I have said that at the end we shall find out. When we had 30 points out of 11 matches at that time there was a lot of criticism but I said we should find out at the end of the season.

"It's still a rat race and Tottenham and Liverpool are still in. Of course, we have dealt them a blow but we have to play against the first three. It can happen a lot. Still, we can win the title, mathematically."