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With Louis van Gaal’s Premier League debut at Old Trafford not going to plan at all.

The early optimism among Manchester United fans has doubtlessly been dealt a blow.

Patience is now key for Manchester UnitedAgainst a compact and resilient Swansea City side, nothing really seemed to have changed from the David Moyes era, but to already pass judgement on this squad, and Louis van Gaal in particular, would be quite unnecessary. This is the beginning of a transformation, and perhaps some had created unrealistic expectations over a very impressive preseason campaign.

Things really could not have gotten off to a worse start, with Swansea City beating the Red Devils at home thanks to Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson, with Wayne Rooney’s fantastic improvised finish proving to be a mere consolation in the end. Louis van Gaal sat expressionless for most of the game, with his attitude saying it all; this is only the beginning of the journey. Beforehand, there was a sense of incredible optimism among fans after a superb preseason campaign which saw Manchester United beat Real Madrid and hated rivals Liverpool, among others. The difference between competitive football and meaningless friendlies has never been so clear, though, and many of the problems that existed under the previous regime was clearly apparent for the Premier League opener on Saturday.

Defensively, Manchester United struggled to cope with the movement of Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge out wide, and while they generally handled the power and presence of Wilfried Bony well, there was too much space left for oncoming midfielders, as we saw with both Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson scoring. Going forward, there was a lot of sterile possession, with the likes of Javier Hernandez and Juan Mata, not to mention Ashley Young, completely anonymous. New captain Wayne Rooney tried valiantly, but there was a clear disconnect between defense and attack as Ander Herrera, so impressive in preseason, was virtually a non-factor. Adnan Januzaj added some directness, but his selfishness in possession meant that nothing really came from his exploitation of a tiring Neil Taylor bar a free-kick that lead to Rooney’s acrobatic finish.

Doom an gloom, then? No, not in the slightest. It has to be stressed that Louis van Gaal needs time to properly implement his ideas and make this team his own. The man himself has indicated that the first three months of his tenures as new manager have been largely unsuccessful at clubs like Bayern Munich, and a transition period is to be expected. One cannot simply expect a whole season of strife to be eradicated in a couple of weeks, because if football were that simple, everyone would be a winner. Manchester United look set to make use of the three-man defense that served the Dutchman so well in the World Cup; a largely foreign tactic for the current generation of players. As with any significant system change, time will be needed for players to become completely confident in their abilities within this structure

Also, the issue of injuries need to be taken into account, with a number of first team mainstays being unavailable, which forced the likes of Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard to make their Premier League debuts. One would struggle to see Manchester United being as ineffective in attack as they were on Saturday once Robin van Persie returns to take his place alongside Wayne Rooney, with one getting the feeling that Javier Hernandez already has his mind on other things rather than Manchester United. Also, significant improvement can be expected once summer signing Luke Shaw regains his fitness fully, with Ashley Young nothing more than a stop-gap solution on the left flank until the young Englishman can take his place in the starting line-up. Also, Jonny Evans might not be the most domineering center-back in world football, but his return will add some much needed experience and guidance to what in essence is still a very young defense.

It was clearly apparent even before a single ball was kicked that Manchester United would not be title contenders, but many fans were caught up somewhat in the all-conquering pre-season that saw the club go unbeaten. Realism is key now, and the top four should be a realistic target to get this legendary club back on track. The key now for fans will be to get behind Louis van Gaal completely, and keep in mind that there will never be another Sir Alex Ferguson who can turn everything he touches into gold.

Originally published at inthestandsport.com

Post written by Marco Conradie, Twitter: @MarcoConradie10
for InTheStandSport, Blog: inthestandsport.com, Twitter: @InTheStandSport

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