United's woes pile up front and back

CHICAGO • A summer that promised so much at Manchester United has begun to take on a different colouring as the problems stack up for Louis van Gaal on the eve of the new Premier League season.

Here is a look at the manager's increasingly troubling in-tray only seven days before Tottenham Hotspur visit Old Trafford.


Paris Saint-Germain are on the verge of finalising a £44.1 million (S$94.5 million) deal for Angel di Maria after reaching an agreement in principle with United during talks that were held in the French capital on Wednesday.

At a time when van Gaal already craves a fast, electrifying attacker, the loss of the closest thing the Dutchman has to that raises numerous questions.

Why could he not get the best out of a player who was a pivotal figure behind Real Madrid's European Cup success only the season before? Would the circumstances be any different if van Gaal managed to sign another gilded but temperamental talent?

Issues around di Maria's wife being unsettled in Manchester aside, the main problems are thought to have centred on the Argentina winger's unhappiness with van Gaal's management style, training methods and being played in too many positions.

Van Gaal encouraged di Maria to give it another season but the player had made up his mind to leave. Relations are thought to have soured some time before his failure to board a flight to join the tour of the United States last week.

United have lined up a £22.8 million deal to sign Spain and Barcelona winger Pedro as di Maria's replacement. But they need more pace in the team and more players capable of punishing defenders.


Running parallel to the di Maria saga has been the uncertainty over David de Gea's future.

Van Gaal is now faced with the situation in the goalkeeping department that he wanted to avoid - a distracted No. 1 short of match practice and with no proven alternative to fall back on.

Van Gaal's concerns about de Gea's state of mind, given the Spaniard's desire to join Real, were realised during United's 2-0 defeat by PSG on Thursday. The goalkeeper was at fault for the first goal and suffered other notable lapses in concentration. He has played only 108 minutes in pre-season.

Despite United's insistence that they will sell de Gea to Real only if Sergio Ramos, the defender, forms part of the package, the manager might be forced to rethink that if de Gea's focus does not improve.

With Anders Lindegaard a virtual outcast, Victor Valdes omitted from the tour and likely to be sold after a falling-out with van Gaal and Sam Johnstone due to join Preston North End on loan, United have only Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero as their sole viable alternative. Romero has yet to play for the Red Devils.


For all de Gea's struggles, the absence of an experienced leader in central defence was abundantly clear against PSG. But United continue to be frustrated in their efforts to sign Ramos.

With Marcos Rojo having failed to join United's tour because of a farcical episode surrounding his passport and visa, van Gaal will start the season with Daley Blind on the left of central defence.

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will fight for the other position.

United's lack of a commanding figure at the back could be their Achilles' heel. To compound matters, one of the leaders they have signed, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, is well short of fitness.


Wayne Rooney has managed one goal in four pre-season matches.

While the England striker is known for taking some time to get up to speed, van Gaal appears to be taking a huge risk by banking on the fitness and form of his captain.

Rooney and Memphis Depay have shown signs of forging an understanding. But the former has not led a line for three seasons and the latter is 21 and new to the Premier League. The options, if either gets injured, are underwhelming.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'United's woes pile up front and back'. Subscribe