Knee jerk reaction isn’t always a safe bet. However, in Manchester United’s case after their 2-1 defeat to Swansea which saw yet another record tumbling as they lost on opening day for the first time since 1972, buying players in the transfer market wouldn’t be considered thoughtless.
Last season was marred with poor results but more importantly, their play was labourious for most parts. Putting the ball wide and expecting those on the flanks to thump it into the box seemed their strategy which didn’t work often. It wasn’t surprising that they finished seventh in the Premier League for the very first time and saw David Moyes being shown the door despite being handed a long term contract by the management following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.
United were active in the summer as they snapped deals for Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera in June. But since then, they have been linked with a host of names. While the interest in Thomas Vermaelen was confirmed by Arsene Wenger, the Belgian chose to join Barcelona over United. This has been a familiar tale for United since the exit of Ferguson and chief executive David Gill. Remember the Thiago Alcantara saga where he snubbed United to reunite with former boss Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Deals for Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale failed to materialise.
Louis Van Gaal’s arrival saw Manchester United use a 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 formations to good use in the pre-season as they won all their matches against the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, AS Roma amongst others.
The improvement shown by several fringe players at United such as Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, Chris Smalling and a few more saw Van Gaal stating, “We have got a month to go still, and we are winning everything - maybe we don’t need other players."
Against Swansea, United lacked creativity and were understandably short of ideas. They lacked the dynamic thrust needed to unlock the defense and the goal scored too came from a set-piece. Only 5 shots on target compared to Swansea’s 4. Of the 28 crosses attempted by United, they had an accuracy of 14.3% while the Welsh outfit put in 9 crosses with 22.2% precision.
For Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 system, defenders need to be alert at all times. At United, the likes of Smalling and Phil Jones are error prone and more often than not, spend time on the injury table. Jones was taken for a ride by Jefferson Montero for most part of the second half and failed to deal with Wilfired Bony who outmuscled the defender everytime he had the ball. Smalling on the other hand failed to deal with Gylfi Sigurdsson who was outstanding for the Welsh side, assisting the first goal and scoring the winner.
The full-backs have an important role to play as they have to track back when not in possession and bomb forward to support the attack. Ashley Young was anonymous for the most of the game and was partly to blame for the Sigurdsson’s winner.
“But the big thing for me was the quality just wasn’t there in the midfield. '[Wayne] Rooney and [Juan] Mata couldn't feed off anything,” Paul Scholes said in his analysis and he couldn’t be more right.
United dominated possession but lacked any penetration as the opposition was happy to sit back and absorb pressure.
Since Van Gaal has come in, he has mentioned of giving every player a chance to prove their mettle before he decides to cull his squad. However, time is running out and it’s time the Dutchman does the needful.
“I know in what positions we need better players," was his response after the Swansea defeat.
It must be noted that Van Gaal lost only thrice at the Allianz Arena in his three-year spell at Bayern Munich. He has also realized that several players aren’t technically proficient to carry out his instructions and said, “In the first half - a lot of players were very nervous and making the wrong choices.”
United need to shift players who have simply not reached the levels expected of them, or more importantly, of United as a club. United need to step-up their efforts in the transfer market and avoid being embarrassed, as was the case last summer when they paid more than the buyout clause of Marouane Fellaini on the deadline day.
What United supporters are assured of is that they have a manager who is experienced and endowed with tactical nous. But to execute his plans, they certainly need a few good signings in the next two weeks.