SUNDERLAND 1 (Jack Rodwell 30)
MAN UNITED 1 (Juan Mata 17)
Manchester United's draw against Sunderland wasn't worrying, but the performance was.
Sir Alex Ferguson suffered failed campaigns, but he never tolerated mediocrity. Being ordinary was once unacceptable, now it is commonplace.
The Red Devils are bland and bereft of creative ideas. The Premier League wilderness beckons unless Louis van Gaal makes radical changes quickly.
Here are some factors to consider.
1. Do sign defenders
It sounds contradictory, but refusing to overpay is not the same as refusing to buy.
Sunderland's profligacy in attack covered a multitude of United's defensive sins.
Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were certainly not the future of the club but, in comparison to Tyler Blackett (right), Michael Keane and Phil Jones, it feels like The Beatles have been swopped for One Direction.
Injuries and World Cup fatigue are mitigating factors but, if vice-chairman Ed Woodward stalls, van Gaal's new baby risks being suffocated at birth.
United cannot wait. A centre back and a fullback are the minimum requirements.
2. Do bring back wingers
Even allowing for the outlandish fee, Angel di Maria's acquisition is undoubtedly a positive one.
His ability to play across the line gives United the chance to use a conventional wide man.
At the moment, van Gaal's formation appears to pander to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata. But they all plodded along the game's periphery against Sunderland.
They also have a distinct lack of pace - a quality that was a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson's sides and a prerequisite for success.
Di Maria's inclusion could see a shift to the 4-3-3 often used by Holland and van Gaal's previous club sides, but that means bench time for at least one, if not two, of the trio named above.
3. Do get it right quickly
Van Gaal's resume is a managerial masterpiece. But the Glazers may consider his CV to be worth as much as the paper it's written on.
Profit is their virtue. Patience is a weakness for lesser men. A season without Champions League football is regrettable; a second is unforgivable.
Players like di Maria and Arturo Vidal can play hard to get, but sponsors and potential investors are an entirely different proposition.
Van Gaal says he needs at least a few months to right the many wrongs.
He does, but he can't be singing the same song at Christmas.
The Glazers measure success in terms of both silverware and share price. If the lack of one starts to weaken the other, they won't care about resumes.
1. Don't overpay for Angel di Maria
Ed Woodward pulled off the headless-chicken routine last season, running around aimlessly and bumping into boardroom walls before paying way over the odds for Marouane Fellaini.
He's about to repeat the trick for di Maria (right).
Real Madrid smell a wounded animal. They are holding out for at least £60 million ($125m). Even if Real accept an offer of £50m plus, Woodward has overpaid again.
The suggestion that such a fee underlines the club's bold intention is as myopic as it is misguided. The figure reeks of desperation. The vultures will circle.
Di Maria is a worthy addition, but not at an exorbitant cost.
2. Don't play a back three
To overwork the earlier analogy, if you're stuck with One Direction, don't try and get them to play Hey Jude.
They lack the finesse, experience, pedigree and instincts to play such a subtle, complex composition.
The back three is beyond United's skill set. Even Sunderland manager Gus Poyet admitted that the system was a baffling one to play without three accomplished defenders who've been tactically drilled so many times that their understanding is practically telepathic.
Even then, speed is king. Pace powers the formation; a commodity in scant supply.
Blackett has been drafted from the reserves and Ashley Young was recalled from the missing persons' list to hit the accelerator. But they keep stalling United's engine.
3. Don't be stubborn
The greatest managers are notoriously obdurate, unwilling to accommodate the views of others. The distance between dogma and genius is measured only by success.
In the end, even Ferguson refused to entertain alternative viewpoints, so utterly convinced by his own omniscience.
David Moyes was going to be a hit at Old Trafford because Ferguson said so. The Red Devils' back three and radically altered tactics will be a hit because van Gaal says so.
United's jaded followers might be coming down with a case of deja vu. Van Gaal has brought colour and beauty to previous clubs, but United are a different beast altogether.
He said he needed time. But Ferguson's long-term success owed less to the luxury of time and more to his flexibility.
This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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