Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United's Van Gaal admits rebuilding may take a season after Burnley misfire

Burnley 0 - Manchester United 0

By Ian Herbert

There are omens for those at Manchester United who go looking for them. The last time the club failed to win any of their opening three Premier League games was 2007-08, a season when they went on to win the Premier League and Champions League.

Any talk of the course of the title race being in any way dictated by events in August – even United's chronic early form – are ridiculous.

Title talk is already a fantasy, though. Early evidence suggests that this is at least a two-year overhaul in which United might have to settle for a second season out of Europe's elite competition.

Their manager, Louis van Gaal, said after the goalless draw at Burnley on Saturday that he can be judged on his achievement only at the end of the season, not the next weeks and months, as he had initially indicated.

United may make a final attempt to do business today. But late returns for Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels and Juventus' Artur Vidal this morning have been ruled out and further acquisitions are unlikely. The £13.8m signing of Ajax's Daley Blind was announced on Saturday morning.

Suggestions that United are moving to bring in Rene Meulensteen, Van Gaal's compatriot and former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, are wide of the mark. The club's deadline day will also be dominated by attempts to shed players.

Shinji Kagawa's time with United has come to an end after Borussia Dortmund signed their former player on a four-year deal.

The Bundesliga club announced that the Japan international midfielder had rejoined them yesterday afternoon, ending a two-year stay at Old Trafford.

"The chance presented itself over the last few days to make the signing of Shinji Kagawa from Manchester United," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said.

"Of course we chose to sign this quality player again."

Striker Javier Hernandez was believed to be signing on loan to Spanish giants Real Madrid, although where he will fit in at the Bernabeu is debatable due to their immense talent up front.

United, it is understood, are still trying to off-load midfielder Tom Cleverley and Aston Villa still looks like his next destination as the England international tries to re-ignite his career.

United's record new signing Angel Di Maria's physicality at Turf Moor was the most surprising aspect of a contribution in which he was their best player.

"He didn't hide or shirk his responsibilities. He coped physically," observed his team-mate Darren Fletcher.

"Once he learns the language he will be okay. That's the important thing. But he's a tough Argentinian lad; he has shown that already."

Ashley Young thinks United have pulled off a major coup by signing the midfielder, who was one of the stars of the World Cup.

"I think it makes a big statement to people out there," Young said.

"A lot of people might say we can't attract world-class players but we've just done that with the signings of Luke (Shaw), Ander (Herrera), Marcos (Rojo) and now Angel.

"Angel is a fantastic signing. Real Madrid have other top players in their team like (Gareth) Bale and (Cristiano) Ronaldo but he's the one who stood out for me in that team."

Yet there was pitifully little around him to excite United fans. Robin van Persie's lack of fitness can no longer be ascribed to his duties late at the World Cup because the third place play-off against Brazil was 51 days ago.

The manager seemed a little baffled by being able to use him for just 73 minutes.

"When you play a player for 60 minutes in his first game and 70 minutes in his second game you build up as a coach," he said.

"That's also disappointing but it's the case in this football world that you have to build up players in the season. We have to do that or he is never fit."

It was an encouraging afternoon for Burnley, who possessed a resolute defence, and a forceful attacking threat in Scott Arfield and David Jones – they are poised to also sign striker George Boyd from Hull for £3m today – and deserved their point.

Jones, sold by United seven years ago, foretold what they will face every week.

"If you look at the previous games they have been edgy and we wanted to take advantage of that," he said. "No player, at the best of times, wants another player in their face, working hard to stop them playing."

Fletcher insisted that Van Gaal's philosophy of playing less intuitively and more "with the brain" was not new to this squad.

"You get the heart and the desire and sometimes you need to think about (the brain) more," he said.

"But we have always had that. Other managers have spoken about it too. Sir Alex Ferguson used to tell us to use our brain and would use (Paul) Scholesy as an example. So it's not something we are averse to."

It may take an entirely reconstructed team to deliver United from this pit, though.

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