United look in need of attacking reinforcements
If the United attack fails to fire against Villa, it'll be time to shop for new firepower
ASTON VILLA v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
One shot on target in 90 minutes summed up Manchester United's opening-day performance.
An unfortunate own goal by Tottenham Hotspur's Kyle Walker gave the hosts a 1-0 home win last Saturday and the verdict on United's attack can be summarised in one word - toothless.
Memphis Depay, who arrived in England amid much fanfare, showed fleeting moments of genius but could not hide his discomfort in a supporting striker's role.
Cast outside of his most effective position on the left, he struggled to get involved, even though he looked bright on the occasions he managed to get on the ball.
It was a tactical move which perplexed legendary Holland midfielder Ruud Gullit, who insisted that manager Louis van Gaal must play him in his best position.
Deployed on the flanks were Juan Mata and Ashley Young, both of whom had average outings.
Young couldn't provide the width regularly enough to offer much of a threat.
Mata's preferred diagonal path through the centre was often blocked by the spirited Spurs players.
As a result, Wayne Rooney, deployed as the main striker, often cut an isolated figure.
Rooney as a targetman has always been a double-edged sword.
As he became increasingly frustrated, so did the frequency of his runs back to the midfield area, where he stood a higher chance of getting into the thick of action.
Unfortunately, that also diminished his presence in the Spurs penalty box.
The link-up play, or the lack of it, between Rooney and Depay was particularly worrying.
United's toils in the final third of the field will not be lost on Aston Villa, who entertain the Red Devils tomorrow morning (Singapore time) on the back of a 1-0 win over Bournemouth.
Tim Sherwood's side may lack the depth and quality of their more illustrious opponents, but the youth and energy of the Villans are amply equipped to hold the fort.
If United repeat their Spurs performance against Sherwood's cohesive unit, the chances of van Gaal walking away from Villa Park with a smile are remote.
Things could change, of course.
The quartet of Rooney, Depay, Mata and Young possess so much individual quality that you wouldn't put it beyond them to click as one, if given the time.
Van Gaal also has the option of introducing Ander Herrera into the fray to liven things up, as he did last Saturday.
However, if the attacking mojo still doesn't flow eight games into the season, then what?
Can they afford to wait until the January transfer window to bring in the reinforcements that they currently look in need of?
Van Gaal is a tinkerer with a penchant for introducing the new and sometimes unexpected.
United and their fans, though, may not have the stomach for another season of tactical tests and experiments.
At the moment, the club are heavily linked with Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez, who is equally adept on either side of the wings or as a second striker.
If he comes, it means van Gaal can then draw the best out of a Depay on the left flank, and also coax more out of Rooney who will have a capable man supporting him from behind.
If the Dutchman sticks with the same attacking line-up tomorrow morning, and still doesn't see a marked improvement, then Villa Park has to be where the toying ends.
It will signal that the time has come for them to get down to the serious business of bringing in who they really need.
De Gea to sit out Villa game
Louis van Gaal has confirmed that David de Gea is still not mentally fit enough to play for Manchester United.
De Gea sat out United's season-opening win against Tottenham last week. Van Gaal felt he was not able to focus because of speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid.
And the United boss has confirmed the goalkeeper will not feature in the club's second game of the campaign against Aston Villa tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"No, it's the same situation," the United manager said when asked if de Gea (right)would be in the squad for the Villa game.
United are refusing to sell de Gea unless they get Sergio Ramos in return or Real break the world-record fee of £32.6 million ($71.5m) for a goalkeeper.
Senior sources at Old Trafford insist they are happy for the 24-year-old to run down his contract, and van Gaal is okay with the idea that the Spaniard will not play for him until the transfer window shuts.
"I have said that already," van Gaal said.
Sergio Romero deputised for de Gea in the 1-0 win over Spurs and the Argentina goalkeeper looks set to play at Villa Park.
"Normally, yes," was the Dutchman's terse reply when asked if Romero would keep his place.
Another person who looks set to stay at United is Adnan Januzaj.
The Belgian was linked with a move to Sunderland after being left out of the match-day squad for the Spurs game.
When quizzed on whether he would consider letting Januzaj leave on loan, van Gaal replied: "He is still not for sale."
Januzaj broke into the United team during David Moyes' only year in charge, but has started just seven league games under the Scot's successor.
Van Gaal insists he is happy with the player, however.
He added: "I have 28 players and I have to select every week, every three days.
"Last week, I choose our players. He (Januzaj) is doing his best.
"All the players are, I don't have any complaints."
Marouane Fellaini is suspended, Phil Jones is out with thrombosis and Marcos Rojo is still lacking match fitness.
The build-up to the Villa match was overshadowed by some strong words on van Gaal from his former player Hristo Stoichkov.
The Bulgarian clashed with van Gaal during the 64-year-old's first spell at Barcelona and he decided to sell the former striker to CSKA Sofia.
Seventeen years on, the pain is still raw for Stoichkov, who branded van Gaal a "mediocre" manager who "destroys" players and clubs during an interview on Spanish radio this week.
Van Gaal dismissed Stoichkov's barb at his pre-match press conference yesterday.
He said: "It is not bothering me. I have as a manager, I have to decide a lot of things. He is one of the players I sent away and that is why he is doing that."
Stoichkov is not the only player van Gaal has fallen out with during his managerial career.
The Dutchman clashed with Giovanni and Rivaldo at the Nou Camp and he also fell out with striker Luca Toni during his time at Bayern Munich.
"They (the critics) can comment but it is not always the truth what they have commented," he added. "I'm used to that.
"There are more players who are very highly speaking about me than I have players that are saying the things that Toni or Stoichkov are saying." - PA Sport.