1. History suggests things will improve
There weren’t many positives to take from yesterday’s game, it was an awful performance and result. After a good pre-season with 6 wins out of 6 things looked good, when it really mattered today the players didn’t produce though and that is a big disappointment. The passing was slow, lacking in quality and also in accuracy. Defensively, we were all over the shop, Ki and Sigurdsson were allowed plenty of space to score. In attack, the strongest area of the team, we created very little, and that’s a worry with Mata, Rooney, Januzaj, Young, Nani and Herrera on the pitch.
Earlier in the summer van Gaal had said that it may take 3-4 months for the players to adapt to his ways. It didn’t seem that way in pre-season but after today it makes a lot more sense. Looking at his start at Bayern Munich perhaps provides evidence of this with 2 draws and a loss in his first 3 games as Bayern boss, he finished the season with a Bundesliga title and a spot in the final of the Champions League. I don’t think we’ll win the league this season and obviously we won’t be a Champions League finalist but history does suggest it takes time for him to get his team playing the way he wants and we’ll hopefully see some signings in the next few weeks, our injury problems lessened and improvements on the pitch in the coming months.
2. “Get the cheque book out”
Louis van Gaal even said it after the game, he knew before the game we needed signings, and we all did too, this result and performance just made things even more apparent. Injuries have also perhaps made things look worse with a few wing back options missing on both sides, our (in my opinion) best and most experienced centre back; Jonny Evans was also missing. Despite injuries though, signings are needed, especially at centre back. With Vidic and Ferdinand leaving in the summer, replacements were needed, so far they haven’t arrived and reported target Vermaelen has moved to Barcelona. Other targets are available but time is running out.
Elsewhere, midfield has been a long term problem. Ander Herrera has done well so far and United looked worse without him today but a quality midfielder is needed to partner him as while it’s great to see Fletcher back and doing well after an incredibly tough time, it’s not enough, there’s no room for sentiment, this is Manchester United and if we’re to get back to where we were, we’ll need to invest.
Just over 2 weeks until the window closes. Tick tock.
3. Bright debut for Blackett
Before kick off or even pre-season, a lot of people may not have heard of Tyler Blackett, the ones that had heard of him before the pre-season tour would never have guessed he’d have been going on tour or starting the first league game of the season today. Although a promising left back at U18 level, Blackett has struggled since stepping up to U21 level, often sitting on the bench or playing out of position, he has also had a couple of poor loan spells at Blackpool and Birmingham.
During pre-season, he was used on the left of the back 3 and improved with each game. Calm and confident in possession and solid in defence throughout pre-season and ended pre-season with a match winning assist against Valencia, late on with the game at 1-1 he sent a long ball forward and Fellaini took it down on his chest and slotted home.
Today was pretty much a continuation of his pre-season performances. He made the most passes out of anyone on the pitch and the most accurate of any of the starting 22 players. His performance wasn’t without flaws though, perhaps at fault, although not solely, for the 2nd goal and maybe even the first too. A schoolboy error also for the 2nd goal in which he passed the ball back to Swansea to allow them to take a quick free kick which resulted in the goal. Despite that I thought he was probably our best player against Swansea, with signings likely to be made, he might find further opportunities harder to come by but he’ll have certainly made an impression on van Gaal in the last month.
4. Louis van Gaal not afraid to change things
For the duration of last season we bemoaned the lack of a Plan B, the last manager continually used a 4-4-2 system and persisted with it even if it wasn’t working. Supposedly if he changed things it would show a weakness as it would prove he was wrong in the first place or something. He was also worried about what people would say if he made a big decision and even admitted to that after a home defeat with Newcastle in December 2013 when van Persie, who had recently returned from injury, played 90 minutes despite it being clear he wasn’t fully fit.
Van Gaal has no fear though, we saw this in the World Cup to great success and we saw it again today with initial success but it didn’t pay off in the end. He switched from the 3-5-2 to a 4-4-1-1 at half time against Swansea, 7 minutes after half time we equalised and looked like we might go on to win it. However, his next change didn’t work out as well when he brought Fellaini on for Herrera, after that we seemed to lose a bit of control on the game and just 5 mins after the substitution Swansea regained the lead and that was how it was to stay. Unless injured it was a strange move to take Herrera off, perhaps it wouldn’t have been such an issue though if there was better quality on the bench or already on the pitch.
5. Rooney can’t do it all on his own
Recently appointed club captain, Wayne Rooney scored our only goal today but I got the impression from early on that he was trying to win the game by himself, taking on a couple of long range shots on when other options were probably best. He was not alone in making poor choices, Januzaj also when he came on was too selfish, as were many others but as captain and one of the more senior players you’d hope that Rooney would make better decisions. After the game, van Gaal criticised his players as they didn’t play as a team and it is this I think he was talking about. Van Gaal also said after the Valencia game in midweek that Rooney was perhaps affected by the captaincy during the game. Hopefully in time Rooney will learn to “let it fly”.
Until Januzaj came on, Rooney was the only player that really looked like scoring. Hernandez was completely anonymous and Mata was not on his game. With van Persie back soon that will hopefully decrease the load on Rooney. Others will need to step up also because he cannot do it on his own.