Belfast Telegraph

Louis van Gaal's Manchester United are very much a work in progress

By TIim Rich

It was the result that mattered in the end and Manchester United, unlike main title challengers Arsenal and Chelsea, won their opening match.

If Louis van Gaal had a hangover from his 64th birthday party on Saturday night, the news from Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium would have eased his mood better than any aspirin.

And yet after two summer transfer windows that have brought 12 major acquisitions and while 15 first-team players have left Old Trafford, it still seemed Van Gaal's United were a work in progress, particularly the spine of the side.

Perhaps it was the sight of three goalkeepers - David de Gea, Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard - watching the 1-0 win over Tottenham from the directors' box as Sergio Romero made a series of unconvincing clearances.

Maybe it was the realisation that, after a summer angling for the services of Sergio Ramos, United were employing the admirable Daley Blind as a makeshift centre-half.

Or it could have been the sound of Van Gaal, who had spent several months last season experimenting with Wayne Rooney as a midfielder, arguing the England captain could lead United's attack this season.

Of the two support strikers on the bench, Adnan Januzaj is being offered on loan while Van Gaal has long considered Javier Hernandez surplus to requirements.

"A forward is not a special item for me," said Van Gaal. "It is more in the media that they are discussing a striker and ours is Wayne Rooney.

"If we can buy another striker who has a lot more qualities than our other players, then we will buy and we have done that always. But I have said it before - we have Rooney."

Rooney has led the United attack magnificently on occasions - particularly in 2009-10 and 2011-12 when he scored 26 and 27 league goals. On neither occasion did United win the title and Rooney requires more support than he got on Saturday.

Memphis Depay might provide that. Of the debutants, he was under less scrutiny than Romero, received less of an ovation than Bastian Schweinsteiger (who seemed well off the pace) and performed less well than defender Matteo Darmian.

"He was too eager, I think," said Van Gaal. "New players, especially young players, always want to show their qualities and the next match will be better for him."

The loss of Phil Jones, diagnosed with a thrombosis after a minor calf injury, might trigger a final bid for Ramos.

"We go for the best players and it has to be possible," said Van Gaal, although any deal with Real Madrid would almost certainly involve De Gea exchanging Old Trafford for the Bernabeu.

In the way that managers do, Van Gaal tried to argue that "the door is not closed on him", although he must know it is shutting fast. It seems hard to believe De Gea will instantly recover focus once the window closes.

The noises from Amsterdam, where Ajax manager Frank de Boer is emphasising how expensive Netherlands international goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen will be, looks like a move to drive up the price rather than prevent the sale.

You wondered, too, about the state of Kyle Walker's head. The Tottenham defender had played at Old Trafford in a 3-0 defeat last season. "I was shocking last year," the 25-year-old admitted. "I had come here with the intention of putting things right."

Instead, he tried to take the ball from Rooney as the striker prepared to shoot from close range and put it through his own net. It spoilt a fine performance from Tottenham.

Spurs looked encouragingly sharp at the beginning and end of the match but football carries no marks for style. As it was for their nearest and not so dearest across London, it was the final result that mattered.

Belfast Telegraph


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