Louis van Gaal's new era at Manchester United continues to stutter. After losing 2-1 at home to Swansea City to begin the new Premier League season, Van Gaal's United team drew 1-1 at Sunderland.
It was a tame performance that exposed the lack of star quality in Van Gaal's squad. Just as they did against Swansea, the Red Devils struggled to create chances after Juan Mata's first-half goal, as Squawka Football detailed:
Other than Juan Mata's goal, Man United are yet to have a shot on target vs Sunderland today. pic.twitter.com/uzQh2aJlcX— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 24, 2014
By contrast, while a point provides little consolation for Van Gaal, a draw is welcome news for Sunderland boss Gus Poyet. It's the second stalemate his team has been involved in to start the new season, one earned by new boy Jack Rodwell's equaliser.
It's a solid beginning to Poyet's first full campaign in charge, especially for a team mired in relegation trouble for the majority of last season.
After the game, Poyet was philosophical about the result, per BBC Sport:
A point is fair, I think so. We conceded a goal against the run of play a little bit.
We came back in the game, pushing. The fans were behind the team. The goal from Jack Rodwell was perfect for a home debut. There are plenty of positives.
It's important we started better than last year and that was key. Will Buckley played well and was incisive as well.
Away from the pitch, Poyet delivered a transfer update on the proposed pursuit of Liverpool's Italian striker Fabio Borini, during an interview with Sky Sports (h/t BBC Sport):
It's the million dollar question. I think we are close to an answer. Now is the time to decide because it's been too long. It's time for a yes or no and we need to move on.
Meanwhile, Van Gaal bemoaned sloppy defending, particularly from set-pieces, per Squawka Football:
Louis van Gaal on his team's performance: "We gave away a lot of set pieces and they scored from a one, which is disappointing."— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 24, 2014
The United boss was also left frustrated by decisions he felt didn't go the Red Devils' way. In particular, Van Gaal focused his ire on a yellow card dished out to Ashley Young for a supposed dive.
He also gave his verdict on a possible penalty claim after a challenge on striker Robin van Persie, per the club's official Twitter feed:
Van Gaal on Young's booking: "He exaggerated but what counts is the opponent touched him. The tackle on van Persie was a penalty too." #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 24, 2014
But perhaps Van Gaal's biggest disappointment was the lack of craft, flair and guile in forward areas. Van Gaal lamented consistently poor use of the ball in the attacking third.
That is something that will gall a manager entrenched in a philosophy based on attractive and expansive forward-thinking football:
Van Gaal: "We lacked creative passes in the final third and missed passes too often – it was either too slow or too hasty." #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 24, 2014
It's interesting that the Dutchman made repeated reference to a lack of creativity. The remedy to that problem could be the proposed pending arrival of Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria.
The Old Trafford club has reportedly agreed a £63.9 million fee for the Argentine international, according to Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague. However, Van Gaal remained coy about the potential signing, per Manchester Evening News reporter Rob Dawson:
Van Gaal asked whether he likes Di Mara. "Yes, but I like Messi, also. I like Vidal, also."— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonMEN) August 24, 2014
Di Maria was a prolific source of creativity for Los Blancos last season. He provided 22 assists during games in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, per WhoScored.com.
The 26-year-old will be an obvious source of supply for strikers Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. If United can create more chances for that star pairing, their form will soon improve.
Van Gaal is still trying to cobble together his new squad and settle on the right formula for success. Di Maria's seemingly imminent arrival is a huge boost for a rebuilding job needing an infusion of star power.
The early impact of that signing on the confidence of the squad should be evident when United travel to newly promoted Burnley next week. Meanwhile, Poyet will expect his resolute Sunderland team to get the better of struggling QPR side away from home.