No room for error for van Gaal
MAN UNITED v SWANSEA
(Tonight, 7.45pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
The revolution of Louis van Gaal will begin tonight at Old Trafford, with an injury-ravaged side that doesn't look so different from the one that fell short so many times last season.
For all of the talk of transfer kitties and recoveries, Manchester United are leaving it all a little late this summer.
With Luke Shaw injured, the only new face that van Gaal can call upon is Ander Herrera, a much needed addition to the midfield.
But, with Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans and Robin van Persie all set to miss the Swansea game at Old Trafford through injury, United are hardly at their strongest.
Indeed, given that Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have all left, there's actually an argument to be made for United being weaker, not stronger than last year.
Little wonder then that van Gaal is said to be disappointed with the efforts of his boss, Ed Woodward.
The much-maligned executive bought himself some time recently with a series of interviews in the press that saw him take some responsibility for last season's transfer market lethargy.
He has 15 days to avoid a repeat performance.
It will be difficult enough for van Gaal anyway, given his decision to switch to a back three.
Without Evans, it seems likely that Tyler Blackett will make his debut in the defence today after an impressive display in pre-season.
But United will need time and stability to settle into their new shape.
This is a formation they have never used before, one that is still relatively unfamiliar in English football.
It will not be a swift transition.
Yet there are reasons to be confident.
Van Gaal could not have asked for an easier start to his reign with games against Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR, Leicester, West Ham before they face Everton and Chelsea in October.
The biggest factor in his favour is that he has certainly changed the mood at Old Trafford.
He is arrogant and cocksure, eager to remind everyone what he has done in the game. That's exactly the figure that United need.
David Moyes, for all of his good intentions, rarely seemed like a United manager.
He could be indecisive, unwilling to spend, reluctant to enter into confrontation. Van Gaal has none of these issues. He will do it on his terms or go down fighting.
He does, however, appear to have had an effect on Wayne Rooney.
A formation designed to make the best of him, with a striker alongside him and a creative attacking midfielder behind him, was one step in the right direction.
The decision to award the Englishman the captaincy was another.
While there were concerns that van Gaal might use Rooney as an "example", a big name to be taken down to prove a point, he has moved in the other direction.
Van Persie, he said, would have been a "disaster" as United captain because he hadn't been at the club long enough.
Rooney was always his preferred choice. That might just be what the 28-year-old needs. To be reassured of his importance and his value. He certainly needs a good season.
Swansea are no mugs.
While results in the wake of Michael Laudrup's sacking failed to improve dramatically, there was nothing wrong with the performances of Garry Monk's side.
Having been sucked into a relegation battle, they survived with back-to-back victories over Newcastle and Aston Villa in April. And they've certainly done more in the transfer market than their opponents.
Jefferson Montero is the pick of a clutch of interesting signings.
The 24-year-old Ecuadorean was the best of his nations' players in an unfortunately brief spell in Brazil this summer.
Inventive and exciting, he'll be a big hit in south Wales if he settles quickly.
Bafetembi Gomis, lured over from France, is another intriguing acquisition.
Van Gaal will need to neutralise them quickly and then make sure that his own attacking players take advantage.
But it will not be as easy as it seems.
For all the talk of change at Manchester United, that first team sheet will have a very familiar look to it.
UNITED'S 1ST 6 GAMES
Tonight: Swansea (Home)
Aug 24: Sunderland (Away)
Aug 30: Burnley (Away)
Sept 14: QPR (Home)
Sept 21: Leicester City (Away)
Sept 27: West Ham (Home)