Louis van Gaal Sees Size of the Task He Faces at Man United with Sunderland Draw

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentAugust 24, 2014

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STADIUM OF LIGHT, SUNDERLAND — If Louis van Gaal didn't know before, he will know now just how big a job he has accepted at Manchester United.

The home defeat to Swansea City on the opening day of the season was a reality check after the positivity following the summer tour of the United States.

And at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, there was a reminder that it's going to take time for the Dutchman to put things right.

United had their three key players, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, available together for the first time since the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in March.

But the problems run deeper than simply getting the right players on the pitch.

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There was a time when United's best players would steamroll through teams like Sunderland.

You needed only to look at their recent record at the Stadium of Light—they haven't lost a league game at Sunderland since 1997—to see that.

But Gus Poyet's team started like one that had already smelled blood. It only takes a few months of turmoil for that aura of invincibility to slip.

Van Gaal still has time to add to his squad before the transfer deadline. There is one name in particular fans are hopeful of seeing on the teamsheet at Burnley next weekend.

But the former Netherlands coach has more than just personnel problems.

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His players have been learning his 3-5-2 system since late July, but at the Stadium of Light, gaps were still appearing where they shouldn't.

The movement of the forward players was stunted and forced. Nothing flowed. Nothing looked natural.

Van Gaal insists it will take three months for his squad to get to grips with his instructions. But three months might be too long.

The target this year, whether Van Gaal wants to admit it or not, is to reclaim their place in the top four and the Champions League. But three months of performances like the ones against Swansea City and Sunderland and that might start to look a bit fanciful.

It will worry the United manager that he has so many issues to deal with.

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They are not creating chances at one end. At the other, the back three can, at times, look uncomfortable, although Sunderland rarely threatened in the second half.

The midfield has been hit by injury. United ended the game against Sunderland with a midfield two of Tom Cleverley and Adnan Januzaj. It's not what the fans had in mind.

It's likely that United will add to their squad before September 1. They certainly need new faces.

But just as Van Gaal's appointment hasn't solved all the problems of last year, neither will simply throwing new players into the team.

Van Gaal's job extends beyond getting Ed Woodward and the Glazers to open the cheque book. It is much more difficult than that.