Suggesting that Manchester United have suffered a bad week given that they spent Thursday afternoon showing off £59.7m worth of football player to the media might teeter on the verge of seeming spoilt, but truthfully, it hasn’t been an exceptionally fantastic few days for the club. Sunday’s dismal 1-1 draw at Sunderland was, for all intents and purposes, neither too bad to warrant explosive abuse or too good to deserve gushing praise, and Tuesday’s Capital One Cup capitulation in Milton Keynes was easily one of the most embarrassing evenings in United’s recent history. So it’s with a certain amount of excited trepidation that Louis van Gaal and his slimming squad head to Lancashire for a lunchtime kick-off with Burnley, searching for their first competitive win of the season.
The match at Turf Moor has already been described as a ‘must-win’, which is pushing it a little; of course, you’d rather not be seven to eight points behind the pacesetters this early on in a league campaign but United are still evidently finding their feet this term. However, it’s difficult to shake the notion that Tuesday’s 4-0 thrashing by MK Dons has shone a negative spotlight on the club and its new manager that needs to be batted away with a victory of some description. Admittedly, that starting XI was a combination of youth and a clutch of players who are now surely surplus to requirements, but expected, it was not, no matter what the Dutchman says. So far this term, United have looked limp, uninspired and overly cautious whilst playing relatively drab football in their two defeats and one draw, and at some point, Van Gaal has to get a reaction out of his players. Time’s on his side, but United look like a team that are afraid to win at the moment, and that needs to be rectified pretty sharpish.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. The capture of Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria for a record British transfer fee is incredibly exciting news for a club that has lacked a player marrying pace and direction so effectively for far too long. Perhaps all the talk that United would struggle to recruit top talent without European football was just that; talk. And it doesn’t stop there; new arrivals, potentially a combination of Arturo Vidal, Nigel de Jong, Daley Blind and William Carvalho are expected before deadline day with Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez and Wilfried Zaha either going or gone. It’s taken a little while for Van Gaal to decide who to keep and who to kick to the curb, and the prospect of cramming a veritable buttload of transfer incomings and outgoings into one week isn’t particularly palatable, but it’s not completely out of character for a club who used to thrive when leaving things to the last minute.
It seems trite to say it given how many naysayers and do-gooders have run an obvious point into the ground and stuck a big flag just to make sure anyone else missed it, but yes, Di Maria is not the messiah and will not fix everything at United. Shocking. But, not being a defender, not being able to make multiple copies of himself and not being able to distribute vials distilled with team spirit, effort and energy means that the Argentine will not, in fact, solve all of the club’s problems. Van Gaal has seen first-hand over the last few weeks just how low on confidence his side are, and that must cause the Dutchman some concern as they continue to adjust to his oft-mentioned philosophy.
So, how will it all pan out on Saturday? Lord knows. Both managers rested most of their starters in midweek, meaning Sean Dyche and Van Gaal have a relatively spritely bunch to choose from, apart from the ten injuries that United are coping with. Defeats to Chelsea and Swansea have made this far from a fairy tale return to the Premier League for Burnley, but the last time these two teams met at Turf Moor in 2009, the evening ended with a shock 1-0 victory for the home side. Given United’s shaky start, you wouldn’t bet against Dyche imploring his players to but United under pressure early and frequently. Can Burnley repeat those heroics? How will United shoehorn Di Maria, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney into one side? Will Marcos Rojo’s work permit ever be issued? And, perhaps most importantly, are the terrible jokes about United not being in the Champions League draw (we know. Cheers) done for now? Not sure, but finding out should be interesting.