Louis van Gaal’s side have struggled in attack in their opening two games, barely creating any clear cut chances in either game. There is a severe lack of pace and urgency in their side. All the great Manchester United sides had pace in abundance, something they have lacked since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. As a result, there is no threat in behind the defence. Sunderland’s back four were not stretched once during the game as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie wanted everything short and the wide players were too deep with their extra defensive responsibilities. The speed is missing in their movement of the ball as well. Everything was slow in midfield; Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher needed too many touches on the ball. They are woefully below the standard required in a side chasing Champions League football. If he is signed, Angel di Maria would bring speed and directness to the team that is badly needed. United are desperate, which is reflected in the £63.9m price that has been reported. Van Gaal has asked for time to implement his philosophy, but he must inject some pace into the side right away.
Sunderland’s battling display was embodied in their three-man midfield. They dominated the centre of the park and took advantage of their United counterparts. Gus Poyet gave them instructions to press and be aggressive all over the pitch. From the first minute, they asserted the dominance – asked of them by their manager – by flying into tackles. In contrast, United sat back and allowed Sunderland to have the ball, and they rarely pressed high. Their captain, Lee Cattermole, was their best player. His desire for the ball was unmatched by the United players, and Jack Rodwell and Sebastian Larsson followed his lead. New signing Rodwell scored the equaliser with an excellent header. Paying £10m for him was a great deal for Sunderland, and it shows the ambition Poyet has to keep improving his side. As Rodwell keeps progressing with the extra game time that he missed out on at Manchester City, midfield should be an area that Sunderland will expect to dominate against the teams around them in the league.
United are reportedly about to pay a huge fee for Di Maria. The truth is that one player will not fix the issues that face Van Gaal this season. There are a lot of injuries, but the United squad is ordinary. You only have to look at the players that finished the game at the Stadium of Light to see the lack of quality. Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett were part of the three-man defence, and Adnan Januzaj was partnering Cleverley in midfield. Much has been made of the lack of defenders this summer, but improvements are needed all over the pitch. The match had the feel of a mid-table battle, it was scrappy in the middle of the park and there was lack of quality in the final third. Sunderland will probably believe they were the better side. It is the harsh truth that United no longer dominate games as they believe they should. Di Maria is a good start, but you have to worry about the price. United have lost any clout they had in negotiations and its driving up the price of their targets.
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