Winners and Losers: Man Utd already playing catch-up

This season was supposed to be different for Manchester United, now under the experienced management of Louis van Gaal and not David Moyes, a rookie when it comes to fighting at the top of the table. And it already is different as, year ago, under Moyes, United started the Premier League season by beating Swansea City, not losing to them.

The result wasn’t the only change in the Dutchman’s first game. Van Gaal started with a 3-5-2 formation, whereas Moyes, both at United and before then, at Everton, was a devotee of a flat back four, a four-man midfield and a fifth midfielder supporting a lone striker. Van Gaal changed the team’s set-up as the match went on but on the evidence from Old Trafford, it’s going to take more than some tactical tinkering to challenge for the title.

United haven’t this summer experienced the massive squad overhaul for which many observers were braced and many more fans were hoping. Instead in have come Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, two young talents for big money, but the former is injured and the latter yet to really adapt to English football. Herrera played just over an hour and although he entered a decent performance, isn’t yet ready to dictate play as is required by a United midfielder.

The problems for van Gaal don’t stop there. Indeed, they really begin further back. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have both been allowed to leave on free transfers and it may be understandable that the United high command wanted the ageing, highly-paid pair off the books. It’s less understandable that with the season already underway they haven’t been replaced.

Rumours over the weekend had it that Roma’s Mehdi Benatia was flying in to Manchester for talks with United and the Morocco international appears to have the profile United need. He was last season the highest-scoring Serie A defender in and helped Rudi Garcia’s team to second place, with a points tally that, in most other years, would have been good enough to finish top. The Giallorossi conceded only 25 goals in 38 games and Benatia racked up some 33 appearances.

But United are reportedly vying with Bayern Munich for the signature of the 27-year-old and if Benatia chooses Bavaria over Salford, it’ll be back to the drawing board for van Gaal. Time is running out, too, with two weeks before the close of the transfer window. If United don’t get the reinforcements they so clearly need then the game of catch-up will be over – the Premier League title contenders will already be out of sight.

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