As eleven Manchester United players stood despondent after hearing Mike Dean’s whistle, Louis van Gaal received the clearest message yet over the scale of his task at Old Trafford: Manchester United 1-2 Swansea City.
The days and weeks leading up to the game were exciting, morale-boosting, and filled with optimism.
The world famous Red Devils conquered the Champions League winning Real Madrid in front of a record crowd.
For good measure, a win over arch-rivals Liverpool allowed an apparently resurgent squad to proudly hoist aloft the International Champions Cup.
But their confidence was then “smashed” in an opening day defeat to Swansea – United’s first opening day defeat at home since 1972.
David Moyes picked up records at almost record-breaking speed in his 10 month spell; now it’s van Gaal’s turn.
But is it his fault, or that of a squad described as “rotten to the core” and featuring a starting eleven described as Manchester United’s worst in 20 years?
Certainly the 3-5-2 didn’t help. It’s hard to tell if it is van Gaal’s fault or the players’, but the failure to apply the requisite tactics for the formation gifted Swansea both goals.
Take Wilfried Bony’s opener. The ball starts with Jonjo Shelvey inside the Swans’ half. He plays a long ball on the ground to Bony, who picks it up unmarked around 10-yards inside United’s half.
Louis van Gaal said to BT Sport before the game if his players “do as we agreed” then his team shall win.
Chris Smalling, the central centre-back in the three-man defence, did not do as agreed. He should’ve been charging out to close Bony down.
That’s how the system works. As soon as a ball is played centrally into the team’s own half, the central defender immediately pushes forward to apply pressure and break down the move, either by winning possession or forcing the ball back.
Smalling clearly forgot his role and failed to react quickly enough. Bony, with all the time he needed, then played the ball out wide to Gylfi Sigurdsson, allowing one of the tactical moves that Swansea boss Garry Monk worked on throughout the week to continue unabated.
A passing triangle between Sigurdsson, Angel Rangel and Nathan Dyer eventually saw Rangel play Dyer down the wing, who in turn played in Sigurdsson on the edge of the penalty area.
Showing all of his inexperience, Tyler Blackett on the left side of the back three races out to meet Sigurdsson, who doesn’t even get the ball.
Rangel takes wingback Ashley Young out of the game with a ball over his head to Dyer as Sigurdsson makes his run forward anticipating the next pass.
Young Blackett however cannot read the game as well as Sigurdsson.
The 20-year-old, making his senior Manchester United debut, charges out to try and stop Dyer’s next move, but fails to communicate this with his defensive partner Smalling.
The lack of talking, plus Smalling’s slow reaction speed, gives Sigurdsson plenty of time and space to receive Dyer’s pass, turn, look up, find an unmarked Ki Sung-Yueng, dribble towards him with ample room to see off Smalling’s advances, and play in the South Korea midfielder for a free shot on goal.
Blame here also has to go to Ander Herrera, United’s exciting new midfielder who was closest to Ki and failed to remember his defensive duties in picking up his onrushing opponent.
Of course Bony gave an obstructive hand in blocking off Phil Jones, but the time and space was already there for Ki to get his first Swansea goal.
Blackett’s inexperience and a lack of understanding of the new formation from Smalling and Herrera gifted Swansea the opener.
The prequisite pace of a 3-5-2 winger saw United claw back into the game, as Adnan Januzaj’s bursting run past Neil Taylor eventually gave Wayne Rooney his chance to equalise.
But the formation’s teething problems surfaced again as Sigurdsson had his great game rewarded with Swansea’s winner.
Ashley Young has made a good fist of being a wingback so far this season, but had Luke Shaw been assuming the role instead, the second goal might not have happened.
As Dyer put a poor cross into United’s penalty area for Swansea, any natural left-back would simply head that ball clear.
But Young’s lack of defensive understanding meant he took up the wrong position and ended up getting underneath the ball, allowing it to drift through to Wayne Routledge.
Routledge then plays in the unmarked Sigurdsson and it’s the shock 2-1 lead for the visitors to Old Trafford that could one day end up bordering on the cliché.
“Unmarked” being the key word for United just like last season.
It may have been his first ever senior game for Manchester United, but the home match with Swansea was not one to remember for Tyler Blackett.
Sigurdsson was his man and again the Icelandic playmaker got the better of the English rookie.
The build-up to Dyer’s cross could also be looked at, but if it was to be analysed then a 50-page technical report might as well be placed on van Gaal’s desk on the Monday morning.
David Moyes complained about his lack of time to succeed or fail at Old Trafford.
While Wayne Rooney has insisted United will learn under their new boss.
For the sake of Louis van Gaal, his “rotten” squad, the Stretford End faithful, Adidas and the club’s 29 other sponsors, and Ed Woodward, the team really do need to learn – and learn quick.
Otherwise, time in the hotseat could again disappear in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.