Louis van Gaal facing a long road to recovery with Man United

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Manchester United's opening day defeat at home to Swansea underlines the fact that what the club have at the moment is not good enough.

A threat in a attack but increasingly vulnerable in defence, the balance of the United squad seems to be lacking at this moment in time. Young Englishmen Chris Smailling and Phil Jones, as well as Jonny Evans, have been trusted to provide a solid foundation at the back for United this season and follow in the footsteps of the ever reliable former duo of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who both left the club in the summer.

Even after one match, we can see that United's frailties at the back - so often in the spotlight during the Red Devils's disastrous 2013/14 season - is costing them not only in the big games but against lesser opposition also.

Van Gaal given food for thought

It will worry United boss Louis Van Gaal, who was hoping to start what he hopes to be a long Old Trafford tenure with a win. What he was hoping, and what the reality was, sums up the difference in expectation and realism that is occurring at the club right now.

Instead, the controversial Dutchman is seriously considering bringing in a top-class centre-back to significantly help out the struggling trio of Jones, Smalling and Evans.

And on Saturday evening it seemed as if Van Gaal was finally ready to act, with reports circulating that a deal had been agreed with AS Roma to bring highly rated centre-half Mehdi Benatia to the club.

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Benatia will not only bring impressive size (6'4'') and presence to a vulnerable United back line, but he will also add a calming, experienced influence to a defence that is extremely short on confidence, and we are only one game into the season. In the 2012/13 season, playing for Udinese, Benatia recorded a superb average of 3.5 tackles per game, something United can only benefit from.

Although the signing of Benatia, if it goes through, will provide United with an enormous boost, there will still be several worries for the fans of a club who are quickly losing faith in their team.

The worries on show

£27 million summer signing Luke Shaw was reportedly branded as 'overweight' by Van Gaal and has already been ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury, hence the start given to young Tyler Blackett at the left side of a three man defence against the Swans.

Not only at the back, but in the central midfield area - a problem for a number of years - is still looking weak despite the £29 million arrival of box-to-box midfielder Ander Herrera. The future of Marouane Fellaini is still in doubt and with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher lacking the urgency and pace they once had, Van Gaal may look to strengthen even further in that department before the window closes at the end of August.

The midfield

So often this summer have United been linked with big stars - Toni Kroos, Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani to name a few - but too often has the club turned down. The attraction of Champions League football is frequently said to be key in big players' decisions when linked with other clubs. But with this box not ticked, it could become even more difficult for the 20-time league champions to convince real superstars to join them in the same way that was once a formality under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The decision to make Wayne Rooney the new club captain is one that seems understandable, but there is more pressure than ever for the England man, along with Robin van Persie, to deliver what seems to be United main target this season - a Champions League place.

Ashely Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani are certainly not providing the threat that they gave two or three seasons ago and with United relying on 19 year-old Adnan Januzaj for inspiration on the flanks, it only highlights the lack of quality in that position also. 

Van Gaal did show glimpses of his game-changing tactical nous on Saturday however, with the Dutchman reverting to a 4-2-3-1 shape in the second half, resulting in a Rooney equaliser after a much improved start after the interval.

But while United started the second half with intent and energy, they ended it in concern and apathy, producing type of lethargic performance that was so often their downfall throughout the last campaign.

Van Gaal will continue to be his innovative and focused self, adding moments of brilliance along the way, but he will need help from his players if United are to achieve anything this season.

The biggest test?

The Champions League, La Liga (2), Bundesliga, Eredivisie and the UEFA Cup -  The Dutchman has achieved a lot in football management. But leading this United squad to a Champions League spot could be his biggest accomplishment yet. 

A poisoned chalace? That remains to be seen, but the recovery that United need may well depend on a combination of brilliance, patience and support. Whether or not the United manager players and fans can achieve this, well, watch this space.

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