Manchester United earned their first point of the season in a 1-1 draw with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Juan Mata put the visitors ahead before his strike was cancelled out by Jack Rodwell in the first half. In a game lacking any real pace or intensity, United were pedestrian in possession and failed to threaten in the attacking third. Sunderland, to their credit, gave another astute performance under Gus Poyet and were more than worthy of the draw.
Louis Van Gaal stuck to the 3-5-2 system that he started with against Swansea with Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley coming in for the injured duo of Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera. Robin Van Persie also returned to make his first appearance of the season, replacing Javier Hernandez in the starting XI.
United looked very shaky in the opening period, particularly in defence. Both wing backs were guilty of giving away possession cheaply early on and inviting pressure on the back 3. That back 3 looked all over the place. After surviving early pressure from the home side, United took the lead, against the run of play it has to be said. Good work from Antonio Valencia down the right saw him beat his man and play a dangerous low ball across the six yard line, which Juan Mata gratefully dispatched into the back of the net. Rather than assert a level of control on proceedings after the goal, United continued to give the ball away cheaply in midfield and Will Buckley, making his first Premier League appearance, looked a constant threat down the Sunderland right. It was a Buckley earned corner that led to Sunderland’s equaliser, Jack Rodwell found himself unmarked to head down Larsson’s delivery down into the net past DeGea. A goal for the former Manchester City man on his home debut for the Black Cats. Van Gaal was forced to make a change just before half time, Michael Keane replacing the hamstrung Chris Smalling.
United continued to have the majority possession after the break but lacked the creative spark to worry the Sunderland defence. After referee Chris Foy judged Vergini’s tackle on Van Persie in the box to be a fair one, he booked Ashley Young for diving after he had taken the ball around Wes Brown. Adnan Januzaj and Danny Welbeck replaced Van Persie and Fletcher on the hour mark. The double change did add some attacking impetus to United’s play as they searched for a second goal, Vito Mannone reacting quickly to thwart Ashley Young with some brave goalkeeping. In the end, it was a goal that never came, the late onslaught from United proving to be fruitless.
In another mediocre performance, far too much of United’s play went sideways across the pitch. With no penetration coming from midfield, Rooney was forced to drop deep and attempt to make things happen. There was no pace going forward, no urgency in attack and the midfield pairing of Cleverley and Fletcher looked totally lacklustre. Two positives of the game were the performances of Phil Jones and Tyler Blackett, who look assured throughout. After full time, news broke that a British record £63 million fee had been agreed with Real Madrid for Angel DiMaria. The capture of DiMaria should lift the players, fans and club, and add much needed pace to the United attack.