Burnley vs Manchester United: Louis van Gaal still winless after goalless draw at Turf Moor

Burnley 0 Manchester United 0

Turf Moor

Yes, it certainly was an alien environment for Angel Di Maria. Not because of the slate roofs, the stone-built Lancashire back-to-backs around Turf Moor and the Pennine hills beyond them but  because he was playing in a team with limitations beyond any recognition to him.

At Real Madrid he was accustomed to seeing Gareth Bale haring up the left touchline when he sent a ball shooting up there – not Ashley Young being bundled out of the chase.

And an array of finishers to be lurking when he is the pivot of such a move that Juan Mata should have finished by burying the ball midway through the first half. He was United’s man of the match, amid very little competition. Robin van Persie: indifferent. Mata: poor. Wayne Rooney: worse – all touch lacking from him.

It was a statement of fact, not a boast, from the Burnley manager, Sean Dyche, when he said that a United lacking pace and penetration had been “quite easy” to play against. United had much possession but their passes “were not productive passes,” observed Dyche, after seeing off a shadow of the Chelsea team who initially overwhelmed Burnley last week. Four of the players in this Van Gaal team – Di Maria, Van Persie, Rooney and David de Gea – are of a Manchester United marque.

“At this moment it is certainly not [world class],” Van Gaal said of his squad. “But we have to wait and have belief in it and that it will happen. Every word [you say] when you have two points from nine is a word too much.” The value Sir Alex Ferguson added looks more extraordinary every day.

It was Brendan Rodgers who observed in the week that: “You can spend as much money as you want but it doesn’t guarantee you anything”, and the brittleness of United’s defence revealed that the nation’s most expensive player won’t buy success if a team is built on a platform such as this.

If anyone thought that Di Maria would arrive and wipe all the fear away then the sight of Phil Jones, labouring in central defence under the challenge of Lukas Jutkiewicz and Danny Ings put paid to it. It’s three years since Jones dominated the August transfer market narrative and United are still waiting for him to materialise into the nation’s outstanding centre-half Ferguson foresaw. His early foul on Jutkiewicz, allowing David Jones the free kick he wound, left footed, from the edge of the area onto the bar, set the course of a first half in which a two-tier United – powerful offensively, painful defensively – looked as likely to concede as to score. Phil Jones’s errors twice allowed Danny Ings the opportunity to score.

 

It was equally a match to forget for 20-year-old Tyler Blackett, nutmegged dangerously by Scott Arfield in one of several bad moments. Burnley’s defence looked secure, by comparison. Van Gaal’s persistence with the 3-5-2 is curious, considering this personnel. “They look like they are going to concede passes every time,” Paul Scholes observed after the game. It made the task of how to slot in Di Maria look like the least of Van Gaal’s problems. His immediate solution to that quandary was to deploy him in a central midfield role, with his freedom to roam and operate close to Juan Mata leaving Darren Fletcher with a serious weight of responsibility. If this is the shape of things to come for United then the omission of an enforcing midfielder from this summer’s spending looks more puzzling  than ever.

Di Maria immediately demonstrated a capacity to compete physically, bouncing off a David Jones challenge, but his vocal exasperation with Blackett’s failure to locate him reflected his diminished horizons. He had already supplied a beautiful, lofted 20-yard opportunity for Van Persie when his back header, flick with the outstep and low cross in one phase of play saw the ball to the feet of Mata, who could not get it from out of there, in the penalty area.

Burnley’s Arfield and Jones were excellent and Van Gaal’s  declaration that United had played more football after the break was unfathomable. He seemed to have given up the ghost on a victory when replacing Di Maria with Anderson. “You are thinking that Anderson is a defensive player but Anderson is thinking he is a No 10. Maybe you can inform him he is a No 6,” said Van Gaal of a player United are desperate to sell.

The United side who faces Queens Park Rangers in two weeks will not resemble this one but theirs will be a long haul. A penny for David Moyes’ thoughts about United’s collection of two points from Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley. In his first three league games last season, he picked up four from Swansea, Chelsea and Liverpool. That seems a very long time ago.

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