LONDON: Louis Van Gaal is still awaiting his first competitive victory as manager of Manchester United. United never imposed themselves at Sunderland but a 1-1 draw on the road was an improvement on the opening home defeat by Swansea.
Juan Mata put United ahead after 18 minutes after the Black Cats had dominated the opening exchanges but Jack Rodwell scored a home debut equaliser by heading in a right-wing corner on the halfhour .
Of course it remains early days for the Dutchman.
United were in need of the run of the ball as Van Gaal sought time to create the team rather than the “unbalanced” squad he found on his arrival in succession to David Moyes.
Argentina defender Marcos Rojo has arrived for £16m and next in is almost certain to be Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid. United have agreed a £65m fee which would be a British record. Neighbours City are the only possible rivals if they can devise a way to bring their wage level within UEFA’s financial fair play parameters.
Even if Di Maria does take up the vacant No7 shirt, Van Gaal has admitted that it will be very difficult to transform a team who finished seventh last season into title winners in his first season – as he did with Barcelona and FC Bayern.
He explained: “When I took over from Bobby Robson in Barcelona he had won three titles [Cup-winners Cup, Spanish cup and supercup] so the squad was stable; when I got to Bayern Munich the selection was not stable and what we did was a miracle.
“United’s squad was not in balance. There are five No9s and six No10s and we don’t have defenders. Winning the title is always possible because we are in the league but it will be very difficult.
“Two weeks ago I was the king of Manchester and now I’m the devil of Manchester.”
The bruising nature of the Premier League challenge was brought home to Van Gaal with a debut home defeat by Swansea then injuries to midfielders Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini which further reduced his selection options.
At least Robin van Persie was fit to return at Sunderland on Sunday. But Rojo was still awaiting his work permit to exacerbate what the Dutchman has described as the worst injury crisis at this stage of the season he has ever experienced as a coach.
United reverted to a three-man defence after abandoning the plan against Swansea. They looked fragile and disorganised in the opening exchanges yet took the lead aganst the run of play in the 17th minute when right wingback Antonio Valencia’s low cross was touched home from close range by Mata.
Sunderland scored a deserved equaliser on the halfhour when ex-Manchester City midfielder Jack Rowell headed home a right-wing corner.
United were weakened further just before half-time when the injured Chris Smalling had to be substituted by inexperienced Michael Keane. Sunderland proved unable, however, to take advantage in second half.
That was more of a concern for United but they do intend to do something about that in the next few days.
Harry Redknapp’s return to Tottenham was a miserable one as the QPR manager saw his promoted team beaten 4-0 as Spurs went top of the early able on goal difference.
Winger Nacer Chadli scored twice as Spurs led by three goals after 35 minutes. new manager Mauricio Pochettino has won each of his three matches in charge, two in the league and one in the Europa League.
A late goal from defender Ryan Shawcross earned Stoke a 1-1 draw at 10-man Hull who had centre-back James Chester sent off after 14 minutes.