Frail Manchester United wait on Angel di Maria reinforcement
Louis van Gaal refuses to reveal transfer progress after draw at Sunderland
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal refused to say if Angel di Maria was set to arrive at Old Trafford before the end of the current transfer window following reports the Real Madrid winger had already said goodbye to his teammates in Spain.
Manchester United after in desperate need of reinforcements after labouring to a ponderous 1-1 draw at Sunderland on Sunday that delivered a first Premier League point for Van Gaal but exposed frailties at both ends of the pitch.
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti said the Argentina international had not taken part in training on Sunday but had “come to say goodbye”, leading to fresh speculation Di Maria was on his way to United.
But Van Gaal said: “I think always the club has to announce it. And when we think it’s the right time to form a transfer then we will come to you and say we have bought that player or the other player. But at this time we can’t say anything.”
The Dutchman added: “Yes, [I like Di Maria] but I like [Lionel] Messi also.
“There are a lot of players in this world that I like but they can’t always come to Manchester United.”
United’s problems were there for all to see again on Sunday as Juan Mata’s opening goal on 17 minutes proved a unique scoring opportunity while their lack of a commanding centre half was exploited by an unmarked Jack Rodwell for Sunderland’s equaliser.
They now find themselves five points adrift of early Premier League pacesetters Tottenham Hotspur, who were Sunday’s big winners with a 4-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers that ensured Harry Redknapp suffered a second straight defeat and a miserable return to his former club..
With the transfer window edging towards a close, United were handed another reminder that nothing but significant investment in a squad that lacks depth and strength will spark an improvement in their fortunes after last season’s woes.
They lacked penetration in attack with little pace or incision and while Mata tapped home following a driving run and fizzing cross from Antonio Valencia, the Spaniard was largely ineffective as a central playmaker.
As English media reported United were nearing a deal for Di Maria, many United fans were perhaps wondering if the more pressing concern lies at the back, despite defender Marcos Rojo’s arrival midweek.
It was Robin van Persie who let Rodwell run and jump unchecked to head Sunderland’s leveller on 30 minutes, but in centre backs Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and youngster Tyler Blackett, United seemed to lack the presence of a leader.
For Van Gaal, who has already claimed it will take a miracle to propel United to the Premier League summit, Sunday’s woes stemmed from midfield.
"We have one point and that is not good enough for Manchester United," the Dutchman said.
"We have to work a lot. The players are very disappointed after the game because we thought we would win.
"The purpose of the game is to create more chances and score goals. We haven’t created more chances. You have to recognise the fight of the opponent.
"We have reached Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie a lot of times, but after that you need the support of the midfielders, and the combination was not good enough."
Hull manager Steve Bruce was angry at the “injustice” he felt denied his 10-man side victory in a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke.
Bruce blamed the match officials for awarding the throw-in that led to Stoke’s equaliser at the KC Stadium.
Stoke’s goal, just about bundled in by Ryan Shawcross, came seconds after referee Jonathan Moss had given Stoke a throw, despite the ball seemingly going out of play via a deflection off a Potters player.
Nikica Jelavic’s close-range finish shortly before half-time had put Hull in front despite James Chester’s 14th-minute sending off.
But rather than celebrate a draw, Bruce said: “We feel an injustice because you can see how blatant it is.
“Their player ran away and didn’t want to even take the throw-in. Surely that’s an indication to the referee or the officials to say, ‘Hang on a minute, it must have hit him’.
“It wasn’t even a slight deflection either. Everyone in the ground must have seen it except for the officials.
“I expect three officials to get something as blatant as that throw-in right ... they’re only 30 yards away and I saw it.
“They said to me I was only guessing but when you see it, it’s ridiculous.”
Bruce added: “I got into trouble twice last year so I’ve vowed I’m not going to give the FA any more money.
“But we’ve had two shocking decisions in two weeks. Last week it was an awful penalty in the last 10 minutes but it didn’t count [against us], it was saved.
“Given the circumstances you would accept a point because we were down to 10 men in 15 minutes. But it’s difficult to take and it’s difficult for the players because the determination was manful to say the least.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who played alongside Bruce at Manchester United, was frustrated by his side’s failure to make their man advantage count but pleased to have a point following last week’s defeat by Aston Villa.
“Given the situation we found ourselves in we didn’t take the best from that situation,” he said.
“We found ourselves up against a team with 10 men and first and foremost you don’t concede a goal. So we found ourselves in a situation entirely of our own making.
“We needed to show a little quality and guile and use our intelligence to understand what was required.
“We didn’t do that to a great extent in the second half.”
Hughes added: “We’re an honest group and we know we can do better than that.”
Reuters, Agence-France Presse