It was not the start to the Van Gaal era at Old Trafford many expected, against a Swansea side that were far from inspiring last season. The 2-1 defeat has been the main story of the weekend and here are five things that are being discussed regarding the match and how it affects the season ahead.
New signings needed
The obvious point that each and every fan is putting their thoughts towards is the desperate need for signings at Old Trafford, the amount is debatable but the need isn’t. The starting line up didn’t strike fear into the opposition, not quite like it used to,with two youngsters; Blackett and Lingard making their debuts and the likes of Young, Smalling and Jones, who are often figures of fun for opposition fans.
Ashley Young had a solid game at left wingback and then left back but he clearly isn’t totally comfortable there as he got caught out for Sigurdsson’s winner, as the ball came lofted over, Young got caught underneath it and lost Wayne Routledge who knocked it back for Sigurdsson. Obviously Shaw is first choice but there is no back up with Evra and Buttner departed. Blind who has been linked heavily and has even said he would be open to a move, would be perfect for this role and can, when Shaw is back, play in centre midfielder or defence, the two other positions that need strengthening.
At least one centre half is needed and Medhi Benatia is the obvious choice, a leader at the back at Roma, maybe goes under the radar being a Moroccan international but at 27 he is an accomplished player comfortable with the ball, strong reader of the game, making interceptions but not afraid to get stuck into a tackle. Argentina’s World Cup Star Marcos Rojo has also been strongly linked, he stopped taking part in training at Sporting but has apologised for his behaviour and he could well stay for another season.
While it is great to see Fletcher back playing top level football again and with his passing ability not in doubt he was however nowhere to be seen when Ki popped up outside the box to finish making it 1-0. United need another central midfielder alongside new signing Ander Herrera and the perfect man would be Pogba but that is highly unlikely considering his past with the club, Vidal has been again highly linked but he seems to be staying also.
Chris Smalling is not good enough
Their centre back issues were highlighted even more by the poor performance of Chris Smalling and the naivety of debutant Blackett. For the first goal Blackett was too tight to his man allowing them to get in behind, not a disaster in a back three. However, Smalling failed to spot the danger quickly enough and didn’t get over in time, as a result Sigurdsson was able to turn and find Ki on the edge of the box.
For the second goal Smalling gave away a ‘tactical’ foul near the half way line, again not a problem. However, the ball falls to Blackett who politely and naively gave the ball back to Bony who used his experience and played a quick free kick. Fast forward, Young gets caught out and Swansea make it 2-1.
Smalling isn’t good enough to be a first team player for a top four club; Blackett was solid on his debut but really lacks experience but Jones put in a good battling performance and if they can bring in two centre backs the issue should well be solved.
Will 3-4-1-2 actually work?
These previous issues do highlight the problem Van Gaal has with the formation. He deployed 3-4-1-2 in the World Cup with the Netherlands because of Kevin Strootman’s injury and has had to deploy it at United because of the ‘unbalanced’ nature of the squad as he has said himself. The squad has too many number 10s and a lack of quality out wide leading to playing three at the back, only one out of each flank and a number 10 behind Rooney and Van Persie.
When against the 4-2-3-1 of Swansea there were the three centre halves marking one player, Bony, allowing Swansea to outnumber United when in possession and then when Bony lost Smalling, which he did on numerous occasions, he was found in space and the attack would start around him. The high pressing which is always part of LVG team, becomes much harder when outnumbered and near on impossible to do successfully.
Van Gaal has been successful in the past at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munchen playing a 4-3-3 but it is understandable why he hasn’t chosen to play this formation at United. It is hard to see how a player like Mata would fit in, one of Rooney or Van Persie would have to be dropped and even more signings than are already needed would be necessary.
Promising start for Swansea
Let’s not forget there was another team in this game. Swansea’s game plan was perfect. Organised at the back, keeping United to few chances, none of which were clear cut, however, on the ball they were even more impressive. Monk clearly saw the advantages of possession around the defence and midfield against a team with three centre halves, their first goal in particular was the perfect example, with 29 passes culminating in Ki’s opener.
Swansea were tipped to struggle by many, of course this is only one game and it will be interesting to see how they cope against teams who are less forthcoming. Monk seems to be more tactical astute than many had thought and with good signings like Ecuadorian Jeffrey Montero and of course Gylfi Sigurdsson they could well push for a top half finish, especially if they can keep hold of prize asset Wilfried Bony.
Januzaj a silver lining
There was a slight silver lining for United fans, although many might not see it for the moment. Van Gaal started with debutant Jesse Lingard and he was impressive giving Neil Taylor all sorts of problems until injury forced him off. Then enter the fray, Adnan Januzaj, the heir to the number 11 shirt. Januzaj was a constant threat on the ball and nearly everything came through him, Taylor was even substituted because he couldn’t handle the young Belgian. He constantly looked to beat his man and get the ball into the box, perhaps the only thing fans will look forward to seeing more of from this opening fixture.
What were your thoughts on Louis Van Gaal’s Premier League debut? Do United need to strengthen? Is Chris Smalling out of his depth? Is Januzaj the next big thing? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, or on Twitter @TBRFootball.