Robin van Persie will be available to take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, but that is the only good news for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal as his injury crisis continues. Van Persie’s start to the season has been delayed after helping Van Gaal’s Netherlands secure third place in this summer’s World Cup. Although the striker is in line to make his first appearance of the season, new signing Marcos Rojo will be unable to make his debut, with the new signing from Sporting Lisbon having not yet received his work permit.
After a positive preseason, Van Gaal’s competitive reign began with a woeful 2-1 defeat to Swansea City that was Manchester United’s first defeat at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season for 42 years. Van Gaal conceded afterward that the revived confidence following last season’s disastrous campaign under David Moyes had already been “smashed.”
It is all too clear that the veteran Dutch coach desperately requires new signings ahead of the close of the transfer window. Rojo could have provided a boost on Sunday, but he’s unavailability, coupled with fresh injuries to Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard have stretched an already thin squad.
“Rojo is fit and ready to play but he doesn't have a work permit so we have to wait,” Van Gaal said, according to Manchester United’s official website. “Last week, we had nine injuries and now we have seven. It's much too much. I have had this as a manager for the first time. We have to live with this. We have four injured midfielders – [Michael] Carrick, from the beginning, but now also Herrera, Fellaini and Lingard. So these four are injured and we are thin on midfielders now.”
Luke Shaw remains out injured, although Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck are back in training. However, regardless of whether he is passed fit, Welbeck looks unlikely to feature. A rash of speculation on Friday claimed that the England forward had been told he could leave to the club -- rumors that Van Gaal did not deny.
[The press] are talking,” he said. “I know what I have said to Danny and Danny knows exactly what I said to him. I think the media is guessing -- they were not in the room. “I won't speak about it. That is private. I assume Danny is not saying anything about our conversation. Ryan Giggs was also involved in the conversation and he hasn't said anything either, and I think that's the way it should be. I am happy with it this way.”
Welbeck enjoyed a spell at loan at the Stadium of Light four seasons ago and, in light of Sunderland’s current lack of firepower, it’s conceivable that they may now be one of the clubs looking to pursue the 23-year-old. Sunderland had a £14 million bid accepted by Liverpool for forward Fabio Borini last month, but the deal for a player who spent last season on loan with the Wearsiders has since stalled.
“Nothing has changed. It’s the same as last week,” manager Gus Poyet said, according to the Sunderland Echo. “It’s still on, nothing has changed for good or for bad. We’re still trying.”
Sunderland, which drew 2-2 at West Brom on the opening day of the season, will at least have their defense boosted against Manchester United, with both Santiago Vergini and new signing Billy Jones in contention after injuries.
Prediction: Manchester Untied were desperately poor against Swansea, with a starting lineup that reflected not just the injury troubles but the negligent lack of investment in the squad in recent years. The team was one-paced and the back three lacked a player who could intelligently move forward and use the ball effectively. United are again likely to come up against just one striker at Sunderland, meaning it is hard to see the value in Van Gaal sticking to a 3-4-1-2 formation that he altered at halftime last week. Still, whatever the formation, without Herrera, the midfield will be threadbare to say the least, and Tom Cleverley could well come in from the cold to start. Van Gaal is a fine coach, but lacks the tools right now and further points could be dropped.
Sunderland 1-1 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra