Man Utd: The key questions facing Louis van Gaal after Burnley draw

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Man Utd did not do enough - Van Gaal

Louis van Gaal has extended the scale of his Manchester United reconstruction to suggest it could be a year before the rewards of his work are witnessed.

No-one was challenging the former Netherlands coach's assertion after an uninspiring afternoon in Lancashire brought a goalless draw against Premier League newcomers Burnley - who more than merited their point.

United only have two points from what many would regard as kind opening fixtures against Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley, a sharp contrast to the tough hand dealt out to Van Gaal's predecessor David Moyes when he succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson.

The poor start prodded executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward into action as this week saw the British record £59.7m purchase of Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid and a £13.8m deal for Ajax's Daley Blind.

The draw at Turf Moor, however, only highlighted that Van Gaal will surely want more reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Monday - although word from inside Old Trafford is that Blind may be the final arrival.

So what must Van Gaal do to pull United out of this desperately uninspired start to the season?

Are signings needed in the next 48 hours?

It would do Van Gaal and United a disservice to ignore the fact that injuries have robbed them of two players who were meant to be of great influence in this new Old Trafford era, England defender Luke Shaw and midfielder Ander Herrera. Even the introduction of new defender Marcos Rojo has been delayed by work permit complications.

Marcos Rojo
Argentina international defender Marcos Rojo signed for £16m on a five-year contract from Sporting Lisbon

The signing of Di Maria has been portrayed as akin to sticking the roof on your house before the foundations have been laid, although few would question the contribution he will make.

There is no doubt, however, that there are clear areas where United need top-class reinforcements.

United's three-man defensive system requires the sort of composure and expertise that appeared beyond Phil Jones and Jonny Evans at Burnley, while Tyler Blackett can be excused as one for the future. Whether Chris Smalling kicks on to fulfil the requirements remains to be seen.

If United cannot find a high-class central defender before Monday night - and Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp scoffed at a reported interest in Germany's World Cup winner Mats Hummels - then this is undoubtedly an area opponents will see as fair game.

Burnley could not quite take advantage, especially in a desperate opening 10 minutes from United, but there would be real relish at the prospect from the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

Herrera's absence is a genuine misfortune but there must also be a need for another top-class operator in that area. There has been the long-standing link with Juventus's Arturo Vidal but time is running out.

A more likely option is that Van Gaal will make do and mend until January and see how Roma's Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman has recovered from a serious knee injury - hoping not too much damage is done to United's season before then.

Who is on the way out?

There was widespread astonishment that Anderson - who clearly has no place in Van Gaal's long-term plans - came on for the tiring Di Maria, although less when Danny Welbeck was sent on for Robin van Persie.

Anderson is one of those surplus to requirements at Old Trafford while Welbeck, as energetic as ever when he appeared, might also leave before the end of the transfer window, as could Shinji Kagawa.

Shinji Kagawa
Van Gaal has told Shinji Kagawa he is surplus to requirements and his former club Borussia Dortmund are interested

Tom Cleverley could well have played his last game for United as Aston Villa attempt to persuade him to complete an £8m move while Javier Hernandez is attracting interest from Valencia and Juventus.

Van Gaal will not be unhappy to see them go to thin out his squad - but the real push over the next few months will be on incomings.

Will he stick with 3-5-2?

Van Gaal used Evans, Jones and Blackett as a three-man back line at Turf Moor - and at no time did it look fully secure.

It is unlikely these three players will be his chosen ones in a defensive system he stands by after the successes of his outstanding career - but can he make it work at Old Trafford?

He will certainly need better wing-backs than Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to make it a success, which is where the versatility of the likes of Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj will be beneficial, although it is questionable whether Juan Mata is suited to the role as he lacks pace.

Angel Di Maria
Di Maria made no tackles on his United debut but was heavily involved during his 70 minutes on the pitch

Van Gaal will also need better central defenders and there are clear signs that the shift in tactical emphasis has been a struggle for some United players.

They had better get used to it because there are few coaches in world football with such complete belief and faith in their own methods as Van Gaal.

It should also be emphasised that it is very early days in what is a tactical work-in-progress, a new manager getting used to new players and new players getting used to a new manager.

Van Gaal has repeatedly stated that his first three months in a job have often been a struggle before the penny drops and success follows.

It might not look easy on the eye so far - but do not bank on Van Gaal changing it one jot.

£150m of attacking talent: but how to make it work?

The Manchester United manager fielded new signing Di Maria alongside Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie - almost £150m worth of attacking talent. Is there really room for all of them in the same team?

On this occasion, Di Maria was tucked in left of centre with Ashley Young wide, while Mata was entrusted with drifting in the spaces behind Rooney and Van Persie and Darren Fletcher as the insurance policy. It was almost a 3-4-1-2.

Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata
Louis van Gaal will need to find a way to accommodate all of his expensively assembled attacking players

While there is no questioning the quality of that group, it places a heavy responsibility on Fletcher and there must be question marks over its regular use over the course of a long season.

With Van Persie rated so highly by Van Gaal - although it did not stop him being removed here - and Rooney his captain, it could leave Mata as the most vulnerable, given Di Maria is clearly an integral part of United's future.

And what of Januzaj? He is obviously one for the future but his was the name being chanted regularly and loudly by United supporters as their team struggled at Turf Moor.

Januzaj has the quality of versatility, as does the excellent Di Maria, so there is plenty of solace for Van Gaal in the ability to juggle and shift around his resources.

Rooney, Van Persie and Di Maria will surely be Van Gaal's "go to" men - the others may have to make do with being part of a rotation policy unless they can force the issue with sheer weight of performances.

Where is the urgency?

Van Gaal is not a technical-area stalker. As with his other early United games, the Dutchman did not move from his seat. He stayed in the dug-out clutching his trademark clipboard and consulting his assistant Ryan Giggs.

In contrast, his opposite number Sean Dyche stripped off his jacket and spent the entire 90 minutes in his technical area, encouraging and cajoling.

Louis Van Gaal
Van Gaal says it will take three months for the players to adapt to the way he wants to play

No manager should ever be judged by his touchline demeanour or time spent in the dug-out - but it was the lack of urgency on the pitch that was surely a concern and brought an angry reaction from United's fans.

Twice in the second half there was a furious reaction from the thousands gathered in Turf Moor's David Fishwick stand - once when United's players stood a long way back as Burnley took a free-kick on the edge of their penalty area and another as Evans dawdled when in a perfect crossing position.

The United of old would have been attempting to press Burnley into submission and even though the Clarets went into something of a retreat late on, there was never the sense of an oncoming siege or late goal you would have expected from previous teams.