SUNDERLAND 1 (Jack Rodwell 30)
MAN UNITED 1 (Juan Mata 17)
Manchester United are more than a Real Madrid rebel short of a revolution. They are mired in mediocrity, lumbered with Premier League lightweights and floundering in a farcical formation.
They escaped the Stadium of Light with a 1-1 draw this morning (Singapore time). Sunderland's endeavour might have earned them all three points in the Premier League clash.
United's back three might leave their fans in therapy.
This team will not get within a whiff of the top four. One point from two games against average opponents is a waking nightmare for shell-shocked supporters.
Louis van Gaal believes he possesses the sort of messianic qualities usually required to part the Red Sea, but he can't bridge the chasm in quality among the Red Devils.
United were lucky to take a point and equally fortunate to take the lead.
Sunderland inexplicably allowed a probing, but mostly pedestrian, move along the right flank to eventually reach Antonio Valencia in the 17th minute.
The wingback whipped a low cross inside the six-yard box. Half the Sunderland side failed to react as the ball made its way towards Juan Mata, who nipped in ahead of Sebastian Larsson to prod in the opener.
But Valencia's swift descent from inspired to insipid neatly summarised his side's fragile grip on van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 formation.
Having worked wonders on the wing to create the opener, he turned calamitous inside his own penalty box on the half-hour mark. Larsson's arrowed corner was met with a thumping header from Jack Rodwell. But Valencia had lost the former Manchester City midfielder, allowing Rodwell to rise unchallenged.
The Ecuadorian's negligent defending was not so much a temporary lapse in concentration as it was part of a deeper, systemic failing at United.
Natural-born wingers make goals. Defending them is an artificial, manager-made task often beyond their temperament. They don't want to be there.
United's trio of centre backs were a pale imitation of a back three, mostly because they were a back five.
Just as tentative as they were against Swansea, the centre backs' uncertainty inevitably dragged Valencia and Ashley Young away from their comfort zone.
MOCKERY OF TACTICS
The wingers' tactical retreat made a mockery of the formation's attacking intentions. United cannot build attacking initiatives when the foundations are so flaky and vulnerable.
Their defenders make for muddled magnets, pulling craftsmen away from preferred workspaces.
Apart from his goal, Mata found himself mostly inside his own half, closer to David de Gea than Vito Mannone.
Wayne Rooney drifted along the game's fringes and Robin van Persie was perhaps understandably sluggish after a his World Cup break.
United were lucky not to go in at half-time trailing. Sunderland's confident approach deserved more than a trio of half-chances from Connor Wickham.
His third, in the 50th minute, was the pick of the bunch.
He wriggled through a couple of statuesque defenders, but sliced his effort wide of the far post.
By historic standards, the Red Devils were wretched inside their own box. Their defending veered worryingly between desperate and diabolical.
A minor controversy occurred when Young almost made the flight path of passing aircraft when he took off following Wes Brown's challenge in the 62nd minute.
Contact was minimal and it wasn't a penalty. But Young's reputation preceded him. He was booked for his latest Royal Ballet audition. But his dive neatly summed up United's day; predictable, tedious and difficult to watch.
Di Maria might be making serious money in moving to Manchester, but he's stepping into an awful mess.
l Hull 1 Stoke 1
SUNDERLAND: Vito Mannone, Santiago Vergini, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Patrick van Aanholt, Lee Cattermole, Will Buckley (Liam Bridcutt 78), Sebastian Larsson, Jack Rodwell (Jordi Gomez 62), Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher (Jozy Altidore 76)
MAN UNITED: David de Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling (Michael Keane 43), Tyler Blackett, Antonio Valencia, Darren Fletcher (Adnan Januzaj 62), Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie (Danny Welbeck 62).
This article was first published on August 25, 2014.
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