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Injuries have afforded Louis van Gaal an excuse for Man United's slow start but, with a number of players expected to return against Everton, the manager needs a big performance...
Like the assailant in an American teen horror movie, the spectre of David Moyes' disastrous start at Manchester United still stalks the club. We know what you did last summer.
From the photographs on his first day sitting wide-eyed in Sir Alex Ferguson's office chair with his Red Devils mouse pad, Moyes just never seemed to fit. That feeling of uncertainty only increased as he questioned the equity of the fixture list - "I find it hard to believe that's the way the balls came out of the bag" - accused his title-winning squad of lacking the quality to challenge in the Champions League, and waited until deadline day to complete his first signing.
"He is a player with great ability and strength and I think he will make a real difference to our squad," said the manager of his £27.5m capture from Everton. Sadly, Marouane Fellaini did not prove to be one of the five or six world-class players Moyes felt he required to win Europe's elite competition.
The weak foundations to Moyes' reign paved the way for the termination of his tenure just ten months into a six-year contract. Despite his own role in United's annus horribilis, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward survived to oversee Louis van Gaal's appointment and at the start of the summer it seemed lessons had been learned. Deals for Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw added much-needed quality and were completed with a minimum amount of fuss, providing a pleasing contrast to the unconvincing high-profile pursuits of a year ago. It looked like United were getting their mojo back.
But since then things appear to have stalled, unsurprisingly coinciding with the club's tour of the US, which has been a nagging bone of contention for Van Gaal. Woodward has regressed to his habit of boasting about spending power before undertaking the necessary spending, while Van Gaal has complained of a broken squad that will take three months to adapt to his ideas. "When there is success you have a very good squad and now I have to follow and the squad was broken I think," he said. "A lot of players are playing intuitively and I want them to think and know why they do something. That process is difficult at first and in the first three months. It takes time." If Moyes had said the same, he would have been accused of getting his excuses in early.
Van Gaal has a point, of course, after United's confidence took a battering in their slump to seventh place. There is an abundance of No. 10s and a choice of wingers who have failed to make the grade, while the loss of several experienced figures - including two captains and 34 Premier League and Champions League winners' medals - has left yawning gaps elsewhere. Those who remain were promised three to four weeks to show the new manager what they can do, but just a fortnight later Van Gaal has already seen enough.
Perhaps he should have known which areas require strengthening simply by looking through United's squad list. A cursory glance at the first team reveals three injury-prone and two unproven centre-backs on which Van Gaal currently intends to base his 3-5-2 formation, and Herrera acting as a sticking plaster to the long-term problems in midfield. In deciding to change United's 4-2-3-1 system that survived from Ferguson to Moyes, Van Gaal has created even more work for himself.
With Rafael struggling with a groin injury and rookie Reece James the only back-up to Shaw on the left, there is also the pressing concern of reinforcing the full-back positions. As a blog on United's official website writes of James: 'The 20-year-old is not the sort of player to prompt giddy comparisons with greats of the past or outlandish predictions of superstardom but, much more importantly, he is highly regarded by those who work with him.' Despite his brace against LA Galaxy, the youngster's appearances on the US tour are reminiscent of Ferguson talking up Robbie Brady's involvement in 2012.
As his previous record and performance with the Netherlands at the World Cup suggest, Van Gaal is a problem-solver who has clear ideas on how he wants to shape success at United. But devising a solution to the flaws in the squad is not the same as fulfilling those plans. "It is right that we are looking for defenders, because a lot of defenders have gone," said Van Gaal after United's draw with Internazionale. With Jurgen Klopp taking Mats Hummels off the market and only two weeks remaining until the start of the season, finding the right additions is easier said than done.
"The pressure I put on myself is higher than the press ever can do," said Van Gaal of his relationship with the media. He may be unperturbed by the daily transfers rumours and top fives of who United should sign, but his doubts about a 'broken' squad sit uneasily with the confidence that has wooed journalists and fans alike. Confidence that ultimately won't be able to disguise the limitations within the squad.
It is nearing the end of the honeymoon period as supporters continue to wait for the anticipated overhaul. Although the absence of European football leaves United with fewer matches to play this season, it will be incredibly difficult to leap from seventh to first with the quality they currently possess. There is plenty of work to be done, and United can't afford to rely on Van Gaal's force of personality alone.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.
Di Maria can play in a central position, though. He would fit. I'm just not convinced he'd move, if we're out of the CL, and PSG are sniffing round him with bags of cash and European football on offer.- HarryBoulton