After defeat in their opening Premiership game United go to Sunderland this weekend for what many are describing as a must win game. The perception is that only a win will do to kick start the season and restore some confidence.
The manager himself has raised the issue of confidence; seemingly sky high for many after an encouraging pre-season now lost after an opening day set-back. Whilst many fans have taken to the phone-in shows and social media to voice concerns maybe it would be more appropriate that we all take a step back and look for some perspective. Perhaps the low after Saturday’s game is deeper as a contrast to an excessive sense of optimism generated by six out of six pre-season wins; have we been taken in by the “Re-United” hype.
The first point to make is that the new manager is clearly keeping some perspective. At the outset he identified that he would work with the squad, make appraisals and then assess who is best placed to implement his “philosophy” and where he might need to buy to strengthen. He indicated that that assessment would take some time and when pushed estimated that it would take about a month. None of his actions to date show any inconsistency with that statement. He has been with us about a month now and he has clearly made his mind up about some; loaning Nani and being about to sign Rojo. No doubt this “process” of squad assessment is still on-going.
Secondly van Gaal has asked the squad to learn a new playing system. This is another process that is still on-going. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled by the successes pre-season, there is a lot wrong with the way United are currently executing van Gaal’s philosophy, but players need time to learn what is expected of them in their amended roles. This will be a process likely to involve small steps rather than big leaps. That is the nature of team building.
Thirdly United have a bit of an injury crisis at the moment and this is probably complicating the smooth progress of the two processes outlined above. People will say that all teams get injuries and this is true, but what the current spate of injuries clearly demonstrates is that United’s squad is unbalanced and thin in certain areas. That of course is something that the new manager has stated himself on a number of occasions.
The nature of the reaction to Saturday’s defeat has perhaps been prompted by a lack of transfer activity. That is a fair criticism, but it is not a new criticism. In this regard Ed Woodward and the Glazers are rightly in the firing line for this, but we are where we are because of a critical under-investment in the squad since about 2007. United failed in this regard last summer and it has to be said prior to that when the brilliance of Sir Alex man-management and team building papered over cracks for a number of years.
One defeat seems to have brought issues to a head, but fans should not be blind to the fact that an over-reaction now can only make life more difficult for the man who seems more than willing to grasp this nettle. When we have someone in place that is at least aware and open about the issues we should perhaps take the opportunity to support him and the team to make this process a little easier.
Over reaction can’t help.