The reign of Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford has begun on lacklustre fashion with Manchester United taking two points from their first three league games. There are plenty of concerning factors surrounding that fact, not least that in Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley, they have faced three teams they would really have expected to beat. Allied to a Capital One Cup humbling at the hands of League One MK Dons and the prospects for the new era look astonishingly bleak at an unbelievably early stage.
At this stage of the season performances should be of greater concern than results. Unfortunately, as the results suggest, the performances have been poor. United have rarely flowed or asserted consistent pressure going forward. The feeling that a goal will inevitably arrive for Manchester United seems like a distant memory, but far more concerning has been the inept defensive displays. Crucial mistakes cost them dearly at MK Dons, and those errors were repeated but not punished at Burnley.
The addition of Angel Di Maria on Tuesday to an already impressive array of attacking talent suggests that United’s greatest struggle will indeed be fixing the cracks in a defence that has been stripped of the experience of former captain Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra over the summer. The signings of the promising but raw Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo both represent gambles by Van Gaal. Shaw must prove his quality and Rojo must adapt quickly to the English game to make the step up from playing in Portugal. A fee for Daley Blind of Ajax has also been agreed. The versatile full-back would represent a safer piece of business given his experience of playing for the manager with the Netherlands, and the fact that Dutch players historical adapt well to the Premier League. These additions must now be supplemented by the acquisition of a commanding presence at centre-back. If Van Gaal persists with his 3-5-2 formation, he will surely need a character to organise his currently erratic defense. He may well need that character even if he does not.
In addition to rebuilding the defence, Manchester United may need to add a further central midfielder if they hope to challenge for the title again. Fellaini has thus far looked incapable of playing the role of midfield general as Roy Keane once did, and only time will tell if Ander Herrera is a capable replacement for Paul Scholes. Sir Alex Ferguson’s inability to replace either of those two men must go down as the biggest flaw in the squad he left for his successors.
In the short term, this may be a very difficult season for Manchester United. Even if the squad is significantly improved before deadline day, the players will need time to adapt to the new managers methods and learn to play together as a cohesive unit.
The club face an almighty battle for a top-four finish, but if a return to the Champions League is achieved this term then it could be viewed as a very successful rebuilding job. Ultimately Champions League football is vital to Manchester United, they are currently a global and thriving brand.
The income that brand provides is being demonstrated with their hefty spending in 2014. If the players brought in can take United back to playing in Europe’s premier competition there is no reason to believe that the clubs brand and therefore long term future will suffer.
The near future may be painful for all involved in the club. Expect more frustrating performances, expect some disappointing results, but ultimately expect Manchester United to find their way back to the top. The strength of the organisation will see to that, whether under Van Gaal or the next man in the hot seat.