Rewind three weeks, Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United squad completed a rather dashing preseason with a 2-0 win over Valencia. Their sixth win out of six games, 5 against top European clubs, quite a turnaround from David Moyes' pre-season, where United struggled against rather mediocre opposition.
And so fast forward a couple weeks ahead to the start of the season, Manchester United versus the lowly Swansea in the Old Trafford. Many expected a repeat of last years' 4-1 victory against Swansea, maybe even a larger score, but a shock occurred.
United played dreadfully, looking like they had no will to chase the ball, barely stringing together passes. Swansea struck first blood, and though Manchester United equalised not too long after through a Wayne Rooney free kick, they never looked too threatening. Sigurdsson took the game into his hands by rifling in a shot in the 72nd minute, and from then on the score didn't change. Van Gaal changed his formations throughout the game, from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-5-1-1 to whatever, but to be blunt, it didn't work.
Anything can happen the first game of the season, and so I decided to wait until after the Sunderland game. What I saw during the Sunderland game, was no better. Although Manchester United scored first through a goal that probably would have ended up as an own goal had Mata not been there, Sunderland levelled about ten minutes later, and arguably had the better chances throughout the match. United had Robin Van Persie back, but him and Rooney looked like ghosts throughout the match. There was not enough engagement from the shaky midfield to get the forwards involved. Why is Kagawa still on the bench?!
Van Gaal is a huge football personality, and is much better at managing a team than I ever will be, but what shocks me is United's continued lack of attractiveness to big players. Yes, they have signed Di Maria in the next few days, but it's not that Di Maria was dying to go there. He is wanting to leave Madrid and Manchester (either red side or even blue now) is the only place that can afford him. Other wise, Van Gaal's recruitment on defence has been poor.
He is obsessed with the three at the back formations, and yet has only two competent centre backs. Playing Michael Keane is a great investment for the future, but at this moment United need results, and Keane won't deliver. The purchases of Shaw and Rojo are a great start, but Van Gaal plans to utilise them as wing backs, rather than dedicated defenders.
Rojo especially, having played centre back in Sporting Lisbon and moving to full back in the World Cup, has the appearance of a versatile player, but whether Van Gaal chooses to use his versatility on defence or attack remains to be seen.
The mass exodus of defenders with Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand leaving has yet to remedied with adequate replacements. Until United do so, it will be hard for any offensive surges, if they appear to hold. Shaky defending and lack of cohesion throughout the pitch are what characterise Manchester United now. Van Gaal said he needed three months, well now the time's ticking.