For Manchester United, the international break has arrived just in time. Some time and space are required to patch up a few bodies and take a breath after what has been a fraught and testing summer transfer window.
When Louis van Gaal’s players return to Carrington for the resumption of the Barclays Premier League in less than two weeks, however, they will face just the same challenges as an evolving squad tries to tackle confidence problems and a new system.
United manager Van Gaal appeared to indicate after this scoreless and largely thrill-less draw at Burnley on Saturday that there is no going back from the 3-4-1-2 formation he is trying to drill into his players.
As a result, then, United’s destiny would appear to lie more than ever in the hands and hearts of its players. Vice-captain Darren Fletcher underlined that fact when he insisted there was no point hiding behind the difficulties and uncertainty that come with fundamental change.
‘We aren’t doing that at all,’ insisted Fletcher, who has started every league game under Van Gaal this season. ‘We have to master the system and we have to play better and win individual battles.
‘There are other things that come into it apart from the system. I am confident that we will put things right if we keep believing in ourselves and the manager.
‘This is another disappointing result so when we come back from our internationals we are going to have to work on things. Everything is new but basic football principles come into it, too. We are trying our best. We just need to keep believing in the anager’s philosophies and ideas.’
United were slightly better at Turf Moor than they had been in losing to Swansea and drawing at Sunderland in previous Barclays Premier League matches. New signing Angel di Maria enjoyed an impressive debut and United enjoyed enough possession. Still, though, there were signs of the disconnect between the manager’s theory and his players’ execution. At times the simple things continued to look rather difficult.
‘It’s mentally challenging but that’s always been the case here,’ added Fletcher. ‘It’s mentally challenging playing for a club of this size. The players are well used to that.
‘As players learning a new system and developing new ideas you know it’s going to make you a better player in the long term, without a doubt.
‘It’s training, videos, constant learning, looking over every match. We are putting a lot of effort into it and there has been improvement, but there is going to have to be a lot more if we are going to get where we want to be.
‘We have to look to ourselves. We expect the other top teams to win but we have to start winning, too. It’s a long season but we need to get going.’
After Saturday’s game in blustery Lancashire, Van Gaal himself looked a little like a man who wanted to get away and reflect on what he has learned during his first weeks of competitive action in England. For now, the Dutchman’s message continues to be the same: namely that over time, improvement will come.
‘I think you can only judge after one season and not in weeks or months or something like that,’ said the United manager.
‘I think we have to rebuild a new team and what I have already said is that this needs time.
‘At the moment I have to repeat myself every week when we are losing points. You are tired of my answer but also the fans shall be tired of them soon and that’s not a good way to discuss that subject.’
With Dutch utility player Daley Blind the latest significant signing of United’s summer, Van Gaal can certainly not claim to have had anything other than appropriate financial backing from the club.
By the time QPR visit Old Trafford on September 14, competition for places should be relatively lively.
It will be interesting to see how many times Van Gaal is brave enough to play Di Maria, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in the same team. On Saturday’s evidence, Mata looks the most vulnerable to change but Rooney, too, must find some of his real form. His partnership with Van Persie is now in its third season but still appears to need work.
Van Gaal said: ‘You have seen what Rooney was doing, eh? He’s running everywhere in the game.
‘It’s always difficult when you don’t score as a striker to say, “Ok, he played fantastic”. It’s always difficult to say that. But he gives an example in hard work for the team.’
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Heaton 7; Trippier 6.5, Shackell 8, Duff 7, Mee 6; Arfield 6, Jones 7, Marney 6.5, Taylor 6 (Reid 88min); Ings 5.5 (Barnes 78), Jutkiewicz 6. Subs not used: Wallace, Sordell, Gilks, Ward, Long.
Booked: Marney, Reid.
MANCHESTER UNITED (3-4-1-2): De Gea 7.5; Evans 6, Jones 6, Blackett 5.5; Valencia 5.5, Fletcher 6, Di Maria 7 (Anderson 70, 6), Young 6; Mata 5.5 (Januzaj 87); Rooney 6, Van Persie 6.5 (Welbeck 73, 6). Subs not used: Hernandez, Keane, Amos, James.
Booked: Fletcher, Blackett.
Man of the match: Jason Shackell.
Referee: Chris Foy 6.
Burnley have kept only four clean sheets in 41 Premier League matches...but two have come against Manchester United. The Clarets beat United 1-0 at Turf Moor in 2009 with a goal from Robbie Blake. – Daily Mail