Manchester United 1 Swansea 2
Louis van Gaal Day had to be abandoned at short notice. Rescheduled to an unknown date.
There was a nervousness around Old Trafford even in the minutes before Swansea City’s Ki Sung-Yeung struck the opening goal of the game and of the Premier League season, a strike which caused home supporters to sink into their newly-purchased commemorative Van Gaal scarves and t-shirts. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The South Korean’s strike – a just reward for the first half efforts of a determined if surprisingly sloppy Swansea side – meant that this wasn’t a day to crown a new leader at Old Trafford, and just became another one for their fans to forget.
The post-Alex Ferguson era Manchester United remains the strangest sight in the Premier League. A place where success is seemingly just waited for. It’ll just have to come back eventually, right? No alternative is considered.
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Brutally for Van Gaal and those who he’ll think of as his new disciples, that success is far from a given, particularly when you line up against a team such as Swansea with a back three comprising of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett.
In fairness to Jones he was probably United’s standout performer, whilst Blackett’s youth should ensure that he’s exempt from too much criticism. Ahead of him, you couldn’t really say the same for many of his teammates.
The space afforded to Ki for the goal which brought back so many unwanted memories for the home fans was quite incredible; as the defensive responsibilities of Darren Fletcher and debutant Ander Herrera were completely forgotten about, perhaps the by-product of careers spent playing with two central defenders behind them and not three as they had for the first half here.
Fletcher and Herrera took their places in a United side which was missing several players, and that has to be taken into consideration before Van Gaal’s team are written off completely, but this was all just, well, a bit of a mess.
Having spent all summer harping on about their club’s change in approach and Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation – which had been honed in pre-season wins over opposition the calibre of Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia – United fans had to watch both disappear at half-time.
True, hope was restored with Wayne Rooney’s acrobatic equaliser, with the timing and the scorer of the goal suggesting that a comeback was now likely. Only a great block from the excellent Ashley Williams denied him another goal.
But then United regressed to the mean. Uncertainty reigned, they were caught out by a quick free-kick from Wilfried Bony and suddenly they were on the back foot, unable and in some cases unwilling to get back and stop the move which led to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s winner.
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Van Gaal’s response? Throw Marouane Fellaini up top. Considering that he’d already switched to a 4-4-2, this had now become decidedly Moyesian. Not the grand opening United fans had hoped for.
But then the Dutchman can’t work miracles, even though he’ll probably tell you he can.
Major surgery is required on this United side, most notably in the centres of defence and midfield. Fans can speculate about various big name signings on social media, but really they just need players who can actually do a job at the moment, and crucially those who want to play for them.
Swansea’s role in this day is likely to get lost in the grand scheme of things and that is a shame, but if things carry on like this then they aren’t going to be the only team to leave Old Trafford with three points this season.
It’s time for United to realise that there are no quick fixes.
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