Burnley draw raises more questions about Man United's transfer policy
Not for the first time this season -- and certainly not the last -- Manchester United served up the performance of a team under construction. Their goalless draw away to a tactically astute Burnley was remarkable in that an attack featuring Juan Mata, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria contrived to be blunt as a butter knife.
Sadly, like Brazil's forward line for the 2006 World Cup, it is a combination that currently looks far better on the page than on the pitch.
If any significant comfort is to be drawn from the days following this result -- other than Manchester City's unexpected loss at home to Stoke City -- it is that each of Manchester United's acquisitions in the transfer market have been at the least very good and at the best world-class.
Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and -- soon -- Daley Blind could make a claim to form part of most UEFA Champions League squads and would probably make most starting elevens.
Once those signings gel, Louis van Gaal's team will be a far more daunting proposition. For now, though, the team is severely lacking in both chemistry and confidence.
There is almost no swagger about Manchester United. It speaks volumes that the player who moved across the turf with the greatest disdain was the newest arrival, Di Maria. Others looked sluggish or unsure of foot. Jonny Evans, following his calamitous concession of the opening goal against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup, again endangered his own goalkeeper with a poorly-directed pass, and it was only because David De Gea came off his line with an alertness only matched by Manuel Neuer that Burnley did not take the lead.
Meanwhile, in midfield, Darren Fletcher unfortunately remains well out of form, and the sight of him grappling with passing players was symbolic: He was struggling to keep pace where once he would have easily intercepted.
Elsewhere, and somewhat alarmingly, Ashley Young seemed to disappear from view for large swathes of the match, and it was notable to see Di Maria appear in positions far deeper than those in which he began, now and then screening his own back four -- though not to the greatest effect -- or making forays out wide.
A worrying feature for a team whose supposed strength is fast, short passing was the sheer number of long balls hoisted forward, particularly in the first half.
The absence of Ander Herrera, a player who has already shown his ability to knit together the team's defence, midfield and attack, was again keenly felt. The uncomfortable question, too, is how much Van Gaal truly rates Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. Both have well-documented strengths, but when compared to the very best of their peers in Europe -- say, Bayern Munich's new arrival Mehdi Benatia -- they appear to be one or two rungs below. Their self-assurance and distribution from deep help to set the tone for their team's performances, and at present it must be said they are subpar.
Over on the right flank, Antonio Valencia again showed great industry but little invention. His occupancy of that wing for Manchester United again presented the opposition with the most straightforward of challenges; yet, as in the case of Tom Cleverley, it seems unfair to blame them for their shortcomings. They are both players who have been given consistent starting roles where in fact they should be understudies, and that is a reflection on the poor recruitment that has been made for this squad over the course of successive seasons.
Something must be said about the transfer policy here. It is strange how passive, following the early capture of Herrera and Shaw, Manchester United have been for the past few weeks.
Each of their traditional rivals -- most notably Chelsea -- have strengthened their squads in the most proactive fashion.
Meanwhile, though Manchester United long needed a defensive midfielder, they have only just moved for Daley Blind. Why has this taken so long? Where was the aggressive move for Juan Cuadrado, the Fiorentina forward who would have been an excellent addition to this squad? And why have Manchester United seemingly treated Arturo Vidal as if he were the only defensive midfielder they were after this summer?
If anything, the club needed two new signings in this area, as well as one extra defender. The distraction caused and the energy expended by Vidal's unsuccessful pursuit seem to have affected the club's chase of other targets. Where, for example, was the interest in someone such as Christoph Kramer of Borussia Monchengladbach, a player who could have stepped in for someone such as Fletcher and who has several years of improvement ahead of him?
Although the business which has been done is very good, its last-minute nature makes one wonder about the club's true priorities. It gives the appearance that the transfer funds are being used in reactive fashion. At least Van Gaal can draw solace from the fact that his squad is coming together, though perhaps more slowly than he would like. Given the approach of some of the Premier League's leading teams on the fixture list, the cohesion of his starting 11 cannot come soon enough.