THE sense grows as Louis van Gaal remains winless four matches into his tenure following the latest insipid Manchester United display that their struggles may no longer be news. Perhaps the players that the manager has at his disposal are finding their natural level.
Or continuing the standard set last season. Then, United finished seventh and David Moyes was rendered an inept manager. Van Gaalâ€™s glittering rÃ©sumÃ© means that charge cannot be levelled, though the three years since he last managed a club may have left him playing catch-up to current modes.
United have only two points from the available nine, scoring twice. These remain early days and Manchester City suffered a home defeat to Stoke City after United failed to fire at Burnley. But Cityâ€™s reverse appears a blip, Unitedâ€™s start the latest instalment of last seasonâ€™s average fare.
The 10 injuries Van Gaal has to contend with provide mitigation. An 11th player, Marcos Rojo, is unavailable while he waits for a work permit and the Premier League to process the paperwork required after his release from third-party ownership.
But when last weekâ€™s 4-0 humiliation at MK Dons is factored in, the truth is United are yet to convince under the Dutchman. The 3-5-2 he has introduced again failed to offer quick, slick play, though Darren Fletcher believes the formation cannot be used as an excuse.
â€œWe arenâ€™t doing that at all,â€ said the United vice-captain. â€œWe have to master it and play better and win individual battles. There are other things that come into it apart from the system. I am confident that we will put things right if we keep believing in ourselves and the manager.
â€œItâ€™s mentally challenging playing for a club of this size. The players are well used to that. As players learning a new system and developing new ideas you know itâ€™s going to make you a better player in the long term. Itâ€™s training, videos, constant learning, looking over every match. We are putting a lot of effort into it and there has been improvement, but there is going to have to be a lot more if we are going to get where we want. Itâ€™s coming.â€
Van Gaal offered his first explanation of why he is using the three centre-back shape. â€œItâ€™s about the two strikers and the type of midfielders we have because they are playing midfielders and not fighting midfielders or hard-working midfielders, more technical, tactical midfielders,â€ he said.
â€œSo when you have that and also need support [for midfield] you can give this with three defenders but also with five. When you see today we played more three in the back and five in midfield.â€
Yet with the system allowing Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata to all start, the lack of chances created for them and the trioâ€™s paltry goal return â€“ two â€“ provide further concern.
The honest Fletcher did not claim enough one-on-one fights against Burnley counterparts were won. â€œItâ€™s a tough game,â€ he said. â€œThey are the home team and got the benefit of the doubt in 50-50s. But the lads kept getting up and battling on.â€
Van Gaal hopes when his summer recruits are fit and integrated that fortunes can improve. Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera are injured and are hopeful of returning after the international break, alongside Rojo. Daley Blindâ€™s expected arrival from Ajax offers an option as a holding player or left-sided defender, while Angel di MarÃaâ€™s debut here suggested why United paid a record Â£59.7m to Real Madrid for him.
The 26-year-old convinced in central midfield as an attacking force who can laser passes into Van Persie and Rooney, beat opponents with pace and trickery, and offer a scoring threat, as he did when he had a second-half shot stopped inside the area.
Fletcher said: â€œHeâ€™s a fantastic player. He showed glimpses today. Heâ€™s big and powerful and dynamic, and has an eye for a killer ball or pass. He has only been here for a couple of days and we have seen that already. This is some introduction, away to Burnley, but he didnâ€™t hide or shirk his responsibilities and I thought he coped physically.
â€œWe are buying proven quality there and I am sure he will prove to be a great player for Man United. Once he learns the language he will be OK. Thatâ€™s the important thing.
â€œBut heâ€™s a tough Argentinian lad and has showed that already. He has given everybody a lift. Itâ€™s fantastic playing with players like that. The new players will realise the culture of Man United and the experienced players will help to get that message across.â€
Queens Park Rangers are the next opponents on 14 September. Despite United being seven points behind the leaders, Fletcher believes the team can still rise. â€œWe have to look to ourselves. We expect the other top teams to win but we have to start winning too,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s a long season. The manager has said it will take time but he has the full support of everybody here. We are all behind him and Iâ€™m sure we will get a win.â€ – The Independent