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Van Gaal up against it

By AFP | 2014-08-26 07:29:34.0

SUNDERLAND - Louis van Gaal has demanded an immediate improvement from Manchester United after admitting their start to the season has not been good enough.

They avoided matching their worst opening sequence to a Premier League campaign since 1992 by earning a point with an unconvincing display in a 1-1 draw at Sunderland.

But after the first-day defeat at home to Swansea, the new Old Trafford manager was left with much to ponder, his assertion that his side need a miracle to win the title this season looking increasingly accurate.

He revealed confidence was low after seeing Juan Mata's goal at the Stadium of Light on Sunday cancelled out by Sunderland's Jack Rodwell to leave the former champions already five points behind the early pace-setters in their attempts to improve on a disappointing seventh-place finish in May.

"So much is down to confidence," Van Gaal said.

"In pre-season, our confidence was much better than it is now. We're working hard to improve and if we win the next match then that confidence will start to come back."

Van Gaal could not lift spirits with a positive update on United's pursuit of Real Madrid's Angel di Maria, as he remained cautious over the prospects of signing the Argentinian midfielder rated at £60-million (R1.06-billion) .

"I can't say about transfers at the moment," he explained.

Showing his sense of humour has not been diminished by his testing introduction to life at Old Trafford, Van Gaal added: "People have asked me if I like Di Maria. Well, I like Lionel Messi also. There are a lot of players in the world I like, but they can't always come here."

United defender Chris Smalling limped off before half time with a groin injury to add to the lengthy Old Trafford injury list before the club return to action against MK Dons in the League Cup today.

Sunderland performed well enough to have claimed a first home league win over United for 17 years.