Should we be overly surprised? A new manager, even one as decorated as Louis van Gaal, was unable to see a mostly unchanged Manchester United team from last season to a convincing performance, let alone a win on the opening weekend against Swansea.
Confidently uninspired. There’s a different mood about Manchester United, one facilitated by the arrival of van Gaal this summer. The nightmare of last season is still hard to shake, but the club has been lifted. Essentially, it’s anyone but David Moyes.
But even now, having spent £62 million, admittedly only on two players, Manchester United still look far from a convincing outfit when placed in a competitive arena. Yes, the team were missing Robin van Persie, who has been absent through injury. But beyond him, there are no standout players among the list of absentees.
Which is more worrying: that Man United still have such a poor squad by their standards, or that they’ve been unable to do much to rectify the problem?
Is there another club in Europe with a comparable reputation to United that has struggled for such a prolonged period to navigate the transfer market with any semblance of confidence and authority? What’s stopping us from calling United a mess of a situation?
The loss against Swansea would have been right at home among David Moyes’ hits of last season. The theme was the same, the chorus strikingly similar; post-match, we’re all chugging away on the same chord.
This is a Manchester United squad that still needs major surgery. It doesn’t totally excuse the short-lived tenure of Moyes, but with a new manager in place and with very little altered, we can’t really place all the blame of last season at the door of Moyes.
And you have to wonder what exactly the club’s hierarchy are waiting for. There have been big moves in the window, but United have been well away from all of them.
The chief creator of this United team, Juan Mata, was well off his best; Wayne Rooney may have scored the equaliser, but was unable to inspire to all three points; Javier Hernandez gave a good account of why it is far from a major loss if he were to leave; you can change the squad status of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, but it does nothing; and there won’t be any reservations in questioning the use of the 3-5-2 formation, having seen it last all of 45 minutes.
This team is so desperately lacking that we really shouldn’t have been blind to it following the simplicity of a change in the dugout.
There are problems spanning top to bottom. Angel Di Maria would be a big help, so too would Juan Cuadrado. Juventus are evidently reluctant to part with Arturo Vidal, but what’s stopping United making a respectable bid for either of the other two South Americans? Real Madrid are open to the sale of Di Maria, and Cuadrado wants to leave Fiorentina.
Instead, United have failed to fuel their early momentum of wrapping up deals for Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. The pre-season form is now long forgotten, and there’s an oddity about placing interest in Sporting’s Marcos Rojo.
I’m not buying the whole Champions League argument. It’s an easy get-out for the club, if they wish to use it, and nothing bar a device to further beat United by rival supporters. A year way from the Champions League hasn’t reduced the club to rubble. It plays a factor, yes, but not enough for Manchester United to hit dead end after dead end in the pursuit of quality additions.
The assumption was that United would be back in the top four no problem. That assumption was borne out of the belief that Moyes was the problem and van Gaal would right the ship. But the ship doesn’t need steering onto the right course, it needs major repairs. There are holes all over the place.
It may be early days, but the problems that plagued United last season haven’t been done away with. The problems still lie with those at the top, and bringing in a star manager has evidently done little to hide the shortcomings.