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If Manchester United are not to endure another humiliating season, the common view seems to be that Louis van Gaal and his chief executive Ed Woodward will spend the next two weeks charging around the transfer market like maniacs.
‘They need at least three world-class players,’ was Alan Shearer’s estimate on Match of the Day after Van Gaal’s opening-day defeat by Swansea. ‘The good thing that has come out of this for United is that they know they need to sign a lot of players in a lot of positions,’ was the more sweeping view of BT Sport pundit Steve McManaman.
This setback is unlikely to have taught Van Gaal anything he did not already know, however, and afterwards he did not come across as a man whose grand plan had been shot to pieces. There was no sense that he would tear up his 3-4-1-2 formation or panic-buy on the back of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s winning goal.
Asked if he needs new players, Van Gaal said: ‘That is not a question because I know that also before this game. When we are playing (on tour) in the United States I saw the same. I know in what positions we need better players.’
The Dutchman is still coming to terms with English but behind the awkward lingo lies a cast-iron belief that he knows where he is going and what he needs to get there.
After spending £56million on Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, it is possible that United could make only two more signings before the window shuts on September 1.
The priority is a left-footed centre back and Van Gaal is closing in on Sporting Lisbon’s Marcos Rojo despite reports of interest in Roma’s Mehdi Benatia.
He would like to add another defender and a midfielder, and continues to chase Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria. Otherwise, he is happy with what he has because, in Van Gaal’s eyes, his system will work if the players stick to the plan — and eight of them were missing on Saturday.
‘Use your brain and then you can play like a team, and in that we failed,’ he said. The 63-year-old has always been prepared to give youth a chance, and the appearance of Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard in his starting XI recalled United’s opening-day defeat by Aston Villa in 1995 that prompted Alan Hansen’s famous ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ comment.
‘I felt like that in the dressing room today in terms of people looking at the squad and maybe not seeing household names,’ said veteran midfielder Darren Fletcher.
‘But these players are good enough and the manager believes in them. I’m sure they will prove people wrong.’
United went on to win the Double in 1995-96 but, on this evidence, supporters will need some convincing they can do it again. This was, after all, the first time United had lost at home on the opening day in 42 years.
New captain Wayne Rooney, who cancelled out Ki Sung-yueng’s first-half strike, reassured supporters that he will do all he can to avoid it happening again.
‘It’s always a bigger story when United struggle and we saw that last season,’ said Rooney. ‘If this club are successful it’s great. If it’s not then there are a lot of people waiting for you to fall so they can get at you. You’re going to get ex-players going over the top and having their say. We have to make sure last season was a one-off.
‘This is a really bad result but we will learn, especially with the manager we’ve got. He’s strong and wants 100 per cent every game.’
Van Gaal will be concerned at how ineffective the 3-4-1-2 formation proved to be before he changed tactics twice in the second half.
Sigurdsson, whose goal gave Swansea their first league win at Old Trafford, admitted that it posed few problems.
‘United are playing a different system with the three centre backs and the full backs pushed up but our defence dealt with it nicely,’ he said. ‘But they have quite a few injuries and it will take time to get used to the new manager. They don’t need to panic after one game.’
MANCHESTER UNITED (3-4-1-2): De Gea 5.5; Jones 5, Smalling 5, Blackett 6; Lingard 6 (Januzaj 24min, 6.5), Fletcher 6.5, Herrera 5.5 (Fellaini 67, 6), Young 5.5; Mata 5; Rooney 6.5, Hernandez 5 (Nani 46, 5). Subs not used: Kagawa, M Keane, Amos, James.
Scorer: Rooney 53. Booked: Blackett, Young.
SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1): Fabianski 6.5; Rangel 6.5, Amat 7, Williams 7.5, Taylor 5.5 (Tiendalli 53, 6); Shelvey 6.5, Ki 7; Dyer 6.5 (Montero 67, 6), Sigurdsson 8, Routledge 6.5; Bony 7 (Gomis 77, 6). Subs not used: Tremmel, Bartley, Richards, Sheehan. Scorers: Ki 28, Sigurdsson 72.
Booked: Dyer, Taylor, Shelvey, Ki.
Man of the match: Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Referee: Mike Dean 7. – Daily Mail