Louis van Gaal remains without a win as Manchester United manager after the team’s opening-day loss was followed by a 1-1 draw at Sunderland in the Premier League on Sunday.
Although Juan Mata put the 20-time English champions in front in the 17th minute, former Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell headed Sunderland level on the half-hour.
United again lacked both invention and penetration, highlighting why the club is reportedly closing in on signing speedy winger Angel di Maria from Real Madrid.
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet looked to exploit United’s frailty at the back by asking Connor Wickham and Will Buckley to utilize the space behind Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, which they did to good effect.
Even though Netherlands striker Robin van Persie was back for United, the display was every bit as dysfunctional as the Swansea loss which heralded the start of Van Gaal’s career in England.
Van Gaal’s decision to field Young and Valencia as wing-backs once again exposed a fragile back three of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett, which was further reduced in terms of experience when Smalling limped off before the break to be replaced by Michael Keane.
But it was not only at the back that the visitors struggled as captain Wayne Rooney and strike-partner Van Persie saw little of the ball where it mattered most.
Nevertheless, it was United which took the lead. Valencia managed to ease past full-back Patrick van Aanholt and cross low to the far post, where Mata got away from Sebastian Larsson to score from close range in the 17th minute.
The goal visibly settled United and the team enjoyed a period of possession as they threatened to take control. However, United allowed Sunderland to get back into the game after Buckley’s direct play had earned his side a corner. Larsson delivered the resulting set piece to the near post and Rodwell headed firmly home with Valencia having done little to impede his progress.
Sunderland might have taken the lead six minutes into the second half when Wickham was given time to work himself into a shooting position inside the box and Blackett somehow blocked his effort with De Gea beaten.
But United gradually assumed control and dominated possession, although with Sunderland defending deep, space was at a premium even with Rooney dropping ever deeper.
United almost found a way through when Van Persie surged into the box only to be halted by a last-ditch challenge.
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