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Five talking points from Man United’s opening-day defeat to Swansea

The Boot Room

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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.

 

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Manchester United

“Imagine thinking Phil Jones is better”: Newcastle fans react to Jamaal Lascelles omission

Newcastle fans can’t believe Jamaal Lascelles is not going to the World Cup this summer.

Max Cohen

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Jamaal Lascelles
Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea narrowly defeated Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, thanks to Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

United centre-half Phil Jones conceded the spot-kick, felling the Belgian in the box and drawing the ire of Twitter in the process.

Newcastle United supporters were baffled at Jones’ poor cup final performance and criticised England manager Gareth Southgate for selecting the 26-year-old defender ahead of Jamaal Lascelles in the World Cup squad.

Against Chelsea, Jones made headlines for his high-profile mistake 20 minutes into the match.

The defender was caught flat-footed just inside his own half when Cesc Fabregas played a lofted ball in the direction of Eden Hazard.

The Belgian’s first touch was excellent and left Jones for dead, putting the Englishman on the wrong side of the ball.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Hazard then cut back across Jones, before the defender lunged into an ill-timed challenge that got nowhere near the ball.

In a cup final of such importance, mistakes such as Jones’ can prove immensely costly. And as United lost the match by the solitary goal, the centre-back’s error was devastating.

And the Manchester United defender’s poor showing incensed English supporters, who were furious at his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man team.

In particular, Newcastle United fans felt aggrieved that Jones was selected in front of their captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles has been superb all season for the Magpies, marshaling the Newcastle defence while leading the club to an impressive tenth-placed finish.

Unlike Jones, who has been an inconsistent feature in United’s side, Lascelles featured in 33 Premier League matches this season – ten more than the United defender.

The Newcastle United faithful expressed their discontent at the England manager’s defensive team selections, arguing Lascelles would have proved a far more effective option in Russia.

And as one intrepid Twitter user noted, when Newcastle United played host to Chelsea just one week ago, Lascelles kept Hazard in check and held the Blues scoreless. Jones, on the other hand, capitulated in the face of the Belgian’s skills.

England face Belgium on 28 June in their final group stage match; Newcastle and Three Lions fans alike will be praying Phil Jones does not feature.

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Manchester United

Luke Shaw must seek Mauricio Pochettino reunion to revive floundering career

Max Cohen

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Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The latest disappointment in a dreadful season for Luke Shaw came on Wednesday, when the Manchester United defender was left out of England’s World Cup squad.

Limited to just 11 league appearances this season, amid a falling-out with Jose Mourinho, the full-back must seek a move to Tottenham Hotspur this summer and reunite with ex-Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino.

It is easy to forget that Shaw is just 22 years of age, as the left back burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old back in 2012.

Once considered one of the world’s finest young defenders, Shaw played in the 2014 World Cup for England and was signed by Manchester United for £30 million – the world record fee for a teenager at the time.

However, the Englishman’s time at Old Trafford has been a troubled one. Filled with injuries and managerial bust-ups, Shaw appears a shadow of his former self and is desperately short of confidence and playing time.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

A transfer to White Hart Lane to link up with old boss Mauricio Pochettino would be the ideal switch for the left back.

Shaw still has time on his side to revive his career, as at only 22 years old, he has many playing years in front of him.

The Argentinian would be the perfect manager to coax the best out of the fullback, due to Pochettino’s impressive knack for getting the best out of promising youngsters.

The two spent a year-and-a-half together at St. Mary’s and Shaw has since spoken glowingly about his respect and adoration for Pochettino in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.”

In order to save his floundering career, Shaw must leave Old Trafford and make the switch to Spurs to rekindle his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino.

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English Premier League

Four Premier League ‘flops’ that have gone on to excel in Europe

There are some exceptional former Premier League disappointments now excelling abroad.

Martyn Cooke

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Flops
Photo: Getty Images

Mohammed Salah has emerged as one of the leading performers in world football this season after having an incredible debut season with Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has scored a combined total of 44 goals for club and country this campaign and was subsequently voted as both the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year.

However, it was only two years ago that Salah was being branded as a flop following a short, unsuccessful stint with Chelsea.

The Egyptian made only a handful of appearances at Stamford Bridge and had to rebuild his reputation in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma prior to emerging as one of the best players in the world this campaign.

Here, The Boot Room looks at four other Premier League flops that have rebuilt their careers in European football.

Memphis Depay

(Photo by Jeff Pachoud/Getty Images)

There was considerable excitement when Manchester United signed Dutch prodigy Memphis Depay for £31 million in the summer of 2015.

The 21-year-old had been the Eredivisie’s leading goal scorer in the previous campaign with his pace, technical ability and unpredictability helping PSV Eindhoven to a first Dutch title in almost a decade.

However, Depay failed to find his feet in England and was unable to secure regular first-team football.

His inconsistent form on the pitch was further emphasized by his reputation for being something of a flashy, egotistical playboy off it.

He was subsequently sold to Lyon for an initial fee of £16 million in January 2017 having failed to impress Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho that he was worthy of a starting role.

The Dutchman has subsequently excelled in France and has exploits have helped Lyon to qualify for the Champions League next season.

He has scored 19 times in all competitions this campaign and is one of only a handful of players who have reached double figures for both goals scored and assists this campaign.

Furthermore, now 24 years of age, Depay has also begun to mature and lose his former bad-boy image.

Andrej Kramaric

(Photo by Daniel Roland/Getty Images)

When Leicester City broke their transfer record in January 2014 to purchase Andrej Kramaric for £9 million, it was widely considered to be an excellent piece of business.

The forward had been prolific in Croatian football where he was averaging over a goal a game with Rijeka and had already secured a regular place in the international team.

All of the signs indicated that The Foxes had bought a young, prolific goal scorer.

Ultimately, Kramaric failed to replicate his previous form and had a diminutive impact at the King Power Stadium.

He started just six games for Leicester before being loaned out to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in January 2016, mid-way through Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning season, and he made the move permanent when the campaign concluded.

Now, 26 years of age, the Croatian has rediscovered his goal scoring touch in Germany netting 30 goals across all competitions over the previous two years.

He hit a hat-trick against Hannover at the end of April to fire Hoffenheim towards Champions League qualification and was hailed as a ‘top striker’ by his team-mate Havard Nordtveit.

Paulinho

(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2013, Tottenham Hotspur broke their record transfer by purchasing midfielder Paulinho for a fee believed to be around £17 million.

Spurs had just sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and the Brazilian was one of a number of high profile and expensive signings that the club made as they reinvested the money.

Paulinho made a solid, if not spectacular, start to life at White Hart Lane and was a regular feature in his first season, making 30 appearances in the Premier League.

However, in the summer of 2013, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Tim Sherwood as manager and the midfielder simply never featured in the Argentinian’s plans.

He made just three starts and was subsequently sold to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande for £10 million.

It was initially thought that the Brazilian’s top flight career in Europe was over until Barcelona made the surprise move to sign him in the summer of 2017.

Paulinho has emerged as a key feature at the Nou Camp this season, making almost 50 appearances across all competitions, to help the club secure a domestic league and cup double, leaving Tottenham supporters wondering if they sold the midfielder too soon.

Iago Aspas

(Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Liverpool signed diminutive Spanish forward Iago Aspas in the summer of 2013 for a £7 million as Brendan Rodgers continued to remould the playing squad at Anfield.

The striker’s arrival was something of a surprise considering he was uncapped at international level and was not widely perceived as being a prolific goal scorer.

The Spaniard struggled to find his feet in the Premier League and made only a handful of appearances before returning to La Liga with Sevilla at the end of the campaign.

He scored only once, a solitary strike in the FA Cup against Oldham Athletic, and his most noticeable contribution was producing one of the worst corner kicks of all time against Chelsea.

However, Aspas is now flourishing with hometown club Celta Vigo and is regarding as one of the most prolific strikers in La Liga.

He has scored 21 goals across all competitions this season in 35 appearances and is the leading Spanish goalscorer across all of Europe’s top flight leagues.

He has a genuine chance of leading Spain’s forward line this summer at the World Cup.

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