United need reinforcements
Apologies for stating the obvious so quickly into the new season, but here was a vision of United’s issues presented starkly in the form of a makeshift back-four and a midfield desperately lacking in quality. Tyler Blackett performed admirably for most of his debut; switching Phil Jones and Ashley Young to right and left back, however, did not go so well. Whichever formation Louis van Gaal decides to stick with, his backline must be reinforced before August is over or United will struggle to compete. If injuries to Shaw, Rafael and Evans have exacerbated the need to bolster the club’s defensive options, today’s game made it nigh-on essential.
Are you Moyes ‘ team in disguise?
Van Gaal’s switch to 4-4-1-1 as the second half began breathed new life into his charges after a fairly turgid display in the opening period, but when Gylfi Sigurdsson added a second, the Dutchman could be forgiven for expecting to see a little more fire from his charges as they stared at another Old Trafford defeat. Much of last season’s problems stemmed from a visible lack of confidence and self-belief when United went behind, and Van Gaal must now be fully aware of how fragile his side are in such situations at present.
It’s not quite as simple as simply bringing in new players, either. If established players don’t appear to be up to the task of a fightback, then new additions will sense it, and potentially be mired in the same despondent bog. Simply put, addressing the lack of confidence that has crept into Manchester United since David Moyes’ reign should near the very top of Van Gaal’s priorities, because he will find progress difficult to maintain if his team responds to falling behind so limply.
United must face reality on a number of first team players
Since the club returned from their North American tour, no new players have been signed, must to the chagrin of its fanbase. It’s perhaps for this very reason that the seven that several newspapers had been shown the door still remain on the club’s books, simply because United cannot afford to sell too many players if replacements aren’t certain to arrive. But at this point, with decisive action needed to bring quality into the side, it’s time to get ruthless with those deemed surplus to requirements.
Essentially, due to two changes of management in the last eighteen months, there are one or two who have been gifted a stay of execution and remain purely because their new boss wants to gauge their usefulness. Yet at this point, it’s difficult to suggest that the likes of Nani, Fellaini or Anderson have anything of use to offer for this season.
Decisions won’t be made immediately but serious thinking has to be given to how much can be expected from a number of regular starters. Darren Fletcher had a great pre-season but was noticeably poor at the first time of asking against competitive opposition, and the club cannot use the hope that the Scot can deliver consistently as a reason not to invest in central midfield. Phil Jones was, for the most part, solid, but Chris Smalling struggled and has still failed to shrug off the slightly lackadaisical aura that surrounds him. The latter, inparticular could be set to become a squad member should a top-class reinforcement arrive, but Van Gaal must have been prepared for making tough decisions like this when he took the job.
Wayne Rooney needs more support
Not from the fans, mind. He’ll never win over the hearts and minds that he’s already lost. The support needs to come from his colleagues. Rooney was United’s greatest threat going forward, Juan Mata struggling in his preferred role and Nani’s crosses useful but missing useful targets. Adnan Januzaj enjoyed a highly effective spurt at the start of the second half, but faded from view as the match wore on. This all combined to make sure that Rooney received less of the ball in areas that he could make a difference, and given that he almost doubled his tally after nutmegging Ashley Williams on the edge of the penalty area and hit the woodwork with a free-kick, the suggestion that the England striker needs to be properly backed by his players feels far from ridiculous, especially with the club’s current issues up front.
Onlooking Glazers cannot hide from reality
It’s been clear from the day that the Glazer family took control of the club that they are not football people; they have run United in a fashion that has benefitted their pockets far more than the squad that Louis van Gaal has inherited. But if they were under any illusions that they could simply afford to drift through to a top four finish this season with just Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw brought into the squad, then today’s game has surely smashed them.
How United could have used Arturo Vidal’s strength and guile, or Angel Di Maria’s quality out wide when the game turned against United in the last 20 minutes, but those names remain persistent rumours that have never gone further. Quality reinforcements are needed, there’s no question about it. Here’s hoping that today’s limp display will be the catalyst for the club to have the sort of transfer window that has been frequently mentioned, but never materialised.