Manchester United’s record signing Ángel di María is set to make his debut at home to Burnley on Saturday as Louis van Gaal’s search for a first win in charge becomes an increasingly desperate one. After beginning their Premier League season in disappointing fashion with a defeat at home to Swansea City and draw at Sunderland, Manchester United suffered the ignominy of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of third-tier Milton Keynes Dons to crash out of the Capital One Cup in the second round. It was a loss and a performance that emphasized just why, with Di María’s arrival, the club’s summer spending had soared to £135 million. Yet Van Gaal has cautioned that Di María will not offer instant miracles.
“Maybe not in his first matches,” he said at the Argentinean’s unveiling, reports Manchester United’s official website. “Because he has been with us for two days and I think, not only has he to adapt to the team but the team has to adapt to his qualities. But I think he will be a player who the fans can enjoy and that is also a reason why we have chosen him.”
But, while it may not be ideal, Di María is needed right now. With the goal of at least securing a return to the Champions League, United can ill afford further slipups during what is, at least on paper, a kind start to Van Gaal’s first Premier League campaign. It is a period that has to be negotiated, though, in the midst of the biggest overhaul of a squad that Manchester United has conducted in years. Despite having already doubled their previous record outlay in a single transfer window, United are not finished yet.
“I cannot say anything about that [the market] because it will raise the price,” Van Gaal said. “The club shall come, like now with Di María, when the time is right to announce it. We cannot react to every rumor. Also, players shall go in the meantime. I had a conversation with the players after lunch and I said, after this weekend, we shall maybe have another group. Players will go away and others will come in. We have to wait and see.”
One of those players to go could well be Javier Hernández. After being used sparingly in the past 12 months, the Mexican striker again looked a shadow of his former sprightly self against MK Dons and is now said to have been the subject of bids from Juventus and Valencia. Shinji Kagwa, who has been singled out for criticism by Van Gaal, has been linked with a return to former club Borussia Dortmund. Tom Cleverley, meanwhile, is being targeted by Aston Villa.
While a large section of United’s fans in addition to Van Gaal may not exactly mourn the loss of Cleverley, the club is not exactly flush for fit central midfielders at the moment. Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick remain sidelined in an area that Van Gaal is likely to try and strengthen before the transfer deadline. Arturo Vidal continues to be the name at the forefront of speculation, but a deal of such magnitude and complexity, given the Juventus star’s knee injury, appears increasingly unlikely to be completed in time. On Thursday stories in Italy suggested the Chilean had informed his Juventus teammates that he was staying. Reports have now emerged of United renewing their interest in Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho.
A lack of options compelled Van Gaal to hand Cleverley a starting role against Sunderland last Sunday and then to bring Adnan Januzaj on into an unfamiliar central midfield role. It may mean that Di María begins in that position against Burnley. The bigger question, perhaps, is what formation Van Gaal will use. While Di María flourished on the left of a midfield three for Real Madrid last season and has done so over a longer period of time for his country, playing in a two-man midfield, as Van Gaal’s current 3-4-1-2 formation dictates, would be a very different prospect. Long term it is difficult to see a position that gets the best out of Di María in the current system.
And it would be hard to argue that a three-man backline is currently getting the best out of United’s defense. Swansea, Sunderland and, most gallingly, MK Dons have all had plenty of joy going up against United’s three central defenders. Jonny Evans is now back from injury and could at least add to the experience in United’s defense at Turf Moor, yet he was as culpable as anyone for the defeat to Mk Dons.
There is plenty of encouragement to be had then for Burnley. And it may be wise for manager Sean Dyche to make his players watch full videos of United’s poor performances so far this season. After a 1-0 defeat to Swansea City last weekend, Dyche lamented that his team had given the opposition too much respect. It had been a similar problem in their 3-1 reversal to Chelsea in their first match back in the top flight, when they stood off their opponents and allowed them to do as they pleased for a decisive spell. As Dyche suggested, Burnley need to begin believing that, after surprisingly finishing second in the Championship last season to win promotion, they belong in the top flight. Like Manchester United, though, Burnley also come into the clash after a midweek exit from the League Cup after a team featuring seven changes from the weekend lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
Prediction: It could easily be three defeats from three matches for Manchester United this season. They were there for the taking at the Stadium of Light and had Sunderland played the team in front of them, rather than their reputation, then they may well have won. Their performances so far suggest it might be a similar story for Burnley. Woeful at the back so far, United have not been much better going forward and have looked desperately devoid of pace and urgency. While potentially playing out of position and surely nowhere near fully fit, Di María should still at least bring improved energy and dynamism. And, especially if Robin van Perise has benefited from getting a first appearance of the season under his belt, Manchester United could well get a first win of the season against a Burnley team still coming to grips with life in the Premier League.
Burnley 1-2 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 7.45 a.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra