CORRESPONDENT COLUMN: The opening-day defeat to Swansea City could be a blessing in disguise, with Louis van Gaal needing to splash the cash on his squad before the window closesBy Greg Stobart
Manchester United's summer has been sprinkled with smug boasts. The record kit deals, boardroom hubris about financial firepower, a couple of meaningless friendly victories in pre-season.
With a world-class manager now in charge in Louis van Gaal, the old United were back. Even a significant portion of the club's fanbase got sucked in by the hype. Yet the feelgood factor of winning the oh-so-prestigious International Champions Cup has swiftly evaporated.
The reality check landed with a thud on Saturday lunchtime as United lost their Premier League opener at home to Swansea City.
The performance was positively Moyesian. The team was disjointed, players were out of position and did not seem to understand their tactical instructions, attacks were laboured and predictable.
After just 90 minutes of football this season, any suggestion that United are ready to challenge again for the title seems laughable.
How can they have any chance when they are starting the campaign with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett as their three-man defence?
Top four and a return to the Champions League should be the top target - the only target - for Van Gaal this season as United look to recover from the disaster of the David Moyes era.
|TRANSFER TALK: ALL THE LATEST RUMOURS
|8/11||Manchester United are 8/11 with William Hill to finish in the Premier League top four|
The word 'humblebrag' was added to the English dictionary last week but, with Van Gaal and Woodward running the show, it will never be used in the context of Manchester United.
Woodward crowed earlier in the summer that United can afford to break the world transfer record, gloated that they are the greatest club on the planet despite the fact that they are not even in Europe this season.
Yet with a squad that required major surgery, Woodward has done nothing in the transfer market since June, when he spent around £60 million to sign Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. It is ridiculous that United should start the season with such a weak and unbalanced squad, particularly after Woodward blundered throughout last summer.
As United search for two central defenders, a holding midfielder and a wide man, Woodward is likely to get his pants pulled down by selling clubs that know the Red Devils are now desperate.
It is his own fault, but Woodward has to do whatever he can to provide Van Gaal with a squad capable of clinching a place in the Champions League.
There is an obvious comparison to Arsenal's humbling defeat to Aston Villa on the first day of last season. After the team were booed off and supporters planned protests, the Gunners responded with the club record signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.
Ozil's arrival changed the whole atmosphere around the club - within the squad and in the stands - and Arsenal comfortably finished in the top four, having been title contenders for much of the campaign.
United need something similar because Van Gaal's arrival alone is not enough.
They must do whatever it takes now, even if it means overspending. If Woodward can buy Marouane Fellaini for £4m more than his release clause, then he can swallow his pride and throw whatever money it takes to sign a top talent like Angel Di Maria or Juan Cuadrado.
The panic is evident in the deal agreed for a good but uninspiring defender in Marcos Rojo from Potuguese club Sporting Lisbon. United will spend £16m on the Argentine defender while subsidising most of Nani's wages as he returns to his former club on loan.
It is a bad deal for United but that hardly matters anymore. They need the bodies in. If they didn't realise it before the weekend, they do now.
A new manager and tactics was never going to be enough to 'repair' a team who finished seventh in the Premier League last season, 22 points off the top.
United need to respond in the final two weeks of the transfer window with some meaningful signings. Then they might get their swagger back on the pitch and mount a genuine challenge for the top four.