MANCHESTER: Louis Van Gaal was right about everything. Manchester United need some new defenders, his players need time to adapt to his tactical demands and fans cannot expect instant success. No wonder Van Gaal never even stepped up from the manager’s bench: what he saw in United’s 2-1 home defeat by Swansea on Saturday fulfilled all his expectations.
Swansea took a 19th-minute lead through Ki Sung-yueng but United’s new captain, Wayne Rooney, struck the equaliser with a close-range acrobatic effort early in the second half. Gylfi Sigurdsson then shot Swansea back ahead after confused defending in the 73rd minute.
United, having lost seven times at home last season, risk a similar fate after losing a home ‘starter’ for the first time since 1972.
Van Gaal had not been afforded the cleanest of blank sheets on which to start writing the latest chapter in his high-profile managerial career in front of a 75,339 crowd. But the evolution of the match put him on the back foot in that he had to abandon his preference for a three-man defence at half-time.
Injuries and summer departures meant his initial 3-4-1-2 line-up featured 20-year-old Tyler Blackett on the left of central defence in the absence of Jonny Evans and 21-year-old Jesse Lingard as right wingback; Ashley Young played left wingback with new signing Luke Shaw injured.
Central midfield saw a quiet debut for Spanish signing Ander Herrera while Wayne Rooney was partnered up front by Javier Hernandez. The presence of the Mexican underscored a key reason Van Gaal’s choice of Rooney rather than Robin Van Persie to wear the captain’s armband: the Dutchman’s fragile physique means he cannot be a permanent presence in the team.
Swansea came to Old Trafford almost unnoticed among the Old Trafford fuss and with central defence and midfield packed solid and with Wilfried Bony on his own up front to contest counter-attacking opportunities against recast Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Blackett.
Van Gaal had already noted a lack of squad depth and such concerns were enhanced when Lingard injured his rightknee stretching for a tackle in the 19th minute and had to be substituted.
As the lunchtime kickoff the match brought a number of seasons ‘firsts’. The 26th minute saw referee Mike Dean use vanishing spray for the first time in the Premier League and Swansea’s Nathan Dyer collected the first yellow card for tripping substitute Adnan Januzaj. Then Ki scored the first goal.
Van Gaal adjusted personnel and tactics at half-time. Striker Hernandez was replaced by left winger Nani and Young edged deeper to leftback as United switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Rooney the lone striker.
Rooney duly equalised only for Sigurdsson to score Swansea’s winner after a wing-to-wing move which exposed Young as a man totally out of his depth as a leftback.
Van Gaal used his press conference to send a clear message to the owning Glazer family and to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward that he needs significant money spent in the closing weeks of the transfer window.
“When you have so much preparation time and work so hard, starting with a defeat cannot get worse than this,” said Van Gaal. “We had great confidence and it got smashed down . . . I have thought about new players. I have done so since the US tour. I know the positions we need.”
So does everyone else who was at Old Trafford: centre back and central midfield just for a start.