Louis van Gaal has admitted that a solitary point from his first two Premier League games as Manchester United’s manager represents significant underachievement.
The former Holland coach made no excuses following Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Sunderland, which followed the previous weekend’s home defeat at the hands of Swansea City. “That is not good enough for Manchester United,” said Van Gaal. “Our passing let us down, we need more creative passing.”
His hope that Ángel Di María, the Real Madrid winger, can provide some sophisticated deliveries remains on hold as the two clubs haggle over a fee. Despite Di María having bid farewell to his team-mates in Madrid, a compromise has yet to be reached with the Spanish club demanding around £75m for the player and United wishing to pay around £20m south of that.
It is likely a sum in the region of £60m will eventually be finalised for the Argentina international but Van Gaal was giving little away on the matter after watching a goal from Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell cancel out Juan Mata’s opener at the Stadium of Light. “At this time I can’t say anything about transfers,” he said before turning jocular. “I like Di María but I like Lionel Messi also. It is not only Di María , maybe it’s Messi too. We are a big club.”
United are also a club struggling to relocate a tactical and stylistic compass as Van Gaal’s injury-hit squad attempts to adapt to his new 3-5-2 system, a configuration which seems unlikely to survive once Di María makes his expected arrival. “You need creative passing in the last third but our balls were not so good,” said Van Gaal. “We were dominating without creating chances. There were so many chances we didn’t create. And that’s disappointing. The players are very disappointed because we had thought we would win today but we have only one point.”
After the defeat to Swansea, Van Gaal conceded confidence within his squad had been “smashed”, and after Sunday’s draw he agreed it remains some way from restoration. “We are training every day in passing and kicking,” he said. “But we have to improve and we have to work a lot.”
The collection of his first point since succeeding David Moyes at Old Trafford clearly proved little consolation to Van Gaal, who saw Chris Smalling limp off with a groin injury. The Dutchman also appeared to have no regrets about leaving Shinji Kagawa out of his starting XI.
“Kagawa did not wish to fulfil my wishes, my philosophy when I played him in the United States [on pre-season tour],” he said.
“In the first half we played an equal match with Sunderland. We didn’t create so much but scored a fantastic goal. We played much better in the second half and could have created more, but in the last third we lacked creative passes and we gave away a lot of set-pieces and they scored from one, which is disappointing.”
He added: “Football is played for creating chances and making goals. We haven’t created so many chances today. We probably had more ballpossession and were more dominant than the last match but you have to win your game at that moment and we couldn’t, so that’s a pity.”
Van Gaal was critical of the referee Martin Atkinson’s decision to book Ashley Young for simulation after going over Wes Brown’s leg in the second half, although he did admit the winger’s action had been exaggerated.
“He was free at the ball, he lifted the ball across the player and the opponent is kicking him,” said the United manager. “After that he was jumping too much, but what counts is that he was kicked by the opponent and then the referee can give a penalty.
“He was tackled in my opinion, but after that he was exaggerating. But it is not diving because he was touched by the opponent. But we can talk all we want about referees – what Manchester United need is better creative passing.”
Gus Poyet seems perplexed by Van Gaal’s vision. “It’s a different Manchester United,” said Sunderland’s manager. “It’s strange to see them playing three at the back. The big thing for me is you have to have the right players to play that system.” Asked whether the system was capable of bringing the best out in Di María, Poyet looked dubious. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
After singling out Will Buckley, his new £2.5m winger from Brighton and Lee Cattermole for special praise, Poyet pronounced himself satisfied with Sunderland’s performance. “I’m very pleased with the quality,” he said. “We were probably the best team.”