Swansea City ensured new Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal got off to a losing start. The Welsh outfit snatched a surprise 2-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday, courtesy of goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ki Sung-yueng.
The defeat marks United's first home loss in a season opener since 1972. Van Gaal's new-look United were far from fluent and imaginative in attack.
With star striker Robin van Persie rested following work at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there was no guile in forward areas. Squawka football summed up United's tame attack:
Manchester United have created just one chance in the second half.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 16, 2014
Perhaps just as significant were the problems evident in United's defence. Van Gaal's new tactical structure has put players like Ashley Young in unfamiliar roles.
The early struggles of Young and others were obvious to Manchester Evening News reporter Rob Dawson:
Awful defending from United. Smalling switched off before the free-kick. Young caught under the cross. Not good.— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonMEN) August 16, 2014
Issues at the back are bound to raise questions about Van Gaal's preferred 3-5-2 formation. It seemed a lot like this structure has been forced onto players.
Of course, Swansea deserve ample credit for restricting United. They filled gaps and kept a solid shape, content to break quickly whenever they pounced on errant passes.
The more pertinent question to emerge from the game will be United's need to take decisive action in this transfer window. So far, only left-back Luke Shaw and midfield pass-master Ander Herrera have arrived.
Certainly, a more natural holding player in midfield to help stymie counter-attacks would seem like a good idea. So would adding at least one more defender.
However, Van Gaal appeared to resist the idea of rushing into reactionary spending after the match, per Dawson:
Van Gaal: "I know what positions we need better players. But we have to wait and see."— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonMEN) August 16, 2014
Those comments are unlikely to please United fans anxious for reinforcements. Neither will appearing to write off the result as a mere blip, per the club's official Twitter feed:
In his post-match press conference, Van Gaal calls for calm: "It is very disappointing... but it is only one game." #MUFClive— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 16, 2014
It's too easy to be dismissive of this result as some sort of anomaly. United's dire form last season and the new manager's difficult beginning hint at deep issues within the squad.
Those problems are unlikely to be fixed overnight. Instead, full-scale surgery is required to make United a force again this season.
Van Gaal also bemoaned the letdown after a positive series of performances during preseason. The Dutch strategist specifically cited the lack of unity on the pitch:
More from the manager: "We never played as a team. That's our error." #MUFClive— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 16, 2014
As for Swansea boss Garry Monk, he was obviously suitably enthused by this team's performance. Defensively, his group were excellent, but there was also plenty of creativity in midfield.
Swansea's assurance at the back and in the middle was in stark contrast to the Red Devils, who lacked both of those qualities today.
Afterwards, Monk stated how he expects continued improvement from his side this season, per BT Sport announcer Jake Humphrey:
Top job Swansea, stick with @btsport to see our interview with Gary Monk who tells us Swans can get 'even better'...— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) August 16, 2014
What this result has shown is that Monk's team has a lot more quality than many would have believed. It also marks him as a young manger who bares watching.
For United, the limp beginning to the new season is a sobering reminder of the scale of the rebuilding job Van Gaal is facing.