EPL: Don’t cry for United

EPL: Don’t cry for United
Manchester United's manager Louis van Gaal.

SINGAPORE - Louis van Gaal had earlier said it would take him at least three months to whip Manchester United into shape.

What Manchester United fans are wondering now is not whether he was right to be so guarded, but if it had been too optimistic an estimate in the first place.

Old Trafford once more descended into a state of anxiety, after a 5-3 defeat by Leicester City on Sunday night in a match they twice led by two goals.

The performance was characteristic of their disappointing start to the season, during they have won only one league game out of five. Clearly, the outing at King Power Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time) wasn't one of their better days.

Keyboard warriors were quick to point out that the Dutchman had made a costly mistake by not bringing in enough defenders to replace Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who have both left the club.

Many called attention to the headline-grabbing signings of attackers Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, believing that they do not alleviate United's more pressing needs at the back.

But the accusation that the United manager doesn't recognise his team's defensive woes is far off the mark.

The high-profile arrivals of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw, for a combined fee of about £57 million (S$118.37 million) were meant to address the problem, as was the promotion of youngster Tyler Blackett to the first team.

Blind and Rojo came to Manchester on the back of some superb performances at the World Cup in Brazil.


Blind, 24, shone as a left back for Holland, and left an especially huge impression in the Oranje's demolition of Spain in Salvador. His versatility, however, allowed van Gaal (above) to deploy him in a defensive midfield position.

Rojo, too, saw his stock rocket as Argentina cruised to the final of the tournament. While the 24-year-old operated on the left for La Albiceleste, he is equally comfortable in the middle.

Shaw, on the other hand, made his mark in domestic competition with Southampton, who punched above their weight and finished eighth in the league last season. Still only 19, he was bought on the premise that he's a rare and raw talent who has the potential to get even better.

Blackett's rise to the United side was expedited because of a lengthy injury list. While not yet a full international, he has represented England from the Under-16s to the Under-21s.

Rafael da Silva, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling are other names van Gaal can call upon.

A backline comprising Rojo and Jones in the centre, with Shaw and Rafael on the flanks and Blind as the defensive midfield shield, doesn't look bad at all.


United are certainly not short of numbers at the back.

But where the Dutchman might have erred was probably to introduce too many things, too soon.

He started with three men in defence, and in the last two matches, with a four-man backline.

Unfortunately, he lost Jones to injury, which meant some reshuffling to his line-up.

Evans left the field on crutches after the Leicester game, so expect some more changes.

Rojo was also slotted almost straight into the side after he signed late last month, further destabilising the team.

Defensive partnerships take time to develop, and at times the process can be painfully slow.

Tactical experiments, especially at a time when half of the players in the team are still trying to settle into new surroundings, may not be such a good idea.

Sure, a top signing such as Mats Hummels, Thiago Silva or Giorgio Chiellini would help.

In hindsight, considering the abundance of flair and creativity in the current team, van Gaal could have gone for a defender instead of signing one of the big-name attacking players.

But the United manager doesn't have the benefit everyone now has.

What he needs is patience. And a little more luck with injuries.

Give the back four, or back three even, a chance to gel and build the level of understanding required at the highest level - injuries permitting.

It may get worse before it gets better.

But United fans asked for a manager with top credentials, and they got one of the best in the business.

Now's the time to stand by the man.

This article was first published on September 23, 2014.
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