Latest flop gift-wraps big job for Van Gaal
Manchester Utd 0 Sunderland 1
For Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward, Manchester United's executive vice-chairman, it was as though the Red Sea had just parted to clear an unobstructed path for the Dutchman to stride into the manager's office at Old Trafford.
There was still the small matter of the United PA system teasing the club's supporters at half-time, as the players trudged off a goal down to Sunderland, with an airing of The Courteeners' 'Are You In Love With A Notion'?
However, the fantasy scenario of Ryan Giggs taking the club forward in tandem with fellow graduates of the club's Class of '92 was given a dousing in cold water as Gus Poyet's team inflicted a seventh home league defeat of the season on the fallen champions.
Giggs and Co taking charge and leading United out of the darkness of the David Moyes interregnum has become a fanciful notion since the Welshman was appointed interim manager 13 days ago, but the untroubled nature of Sunderland's victory highlighted the deep problems only a hard-bitten and seasoned coach such as Van Gaal can truly address.
Van Gaal's appointment as manager this week is now a formality, it being a case of when, rather than if, the Holland coach is confirmed.
The 62-year-old may even be at Old Trafford for tomorrow's game against Hull City, in the guise of the Dutch head coach monitoring the fitness of Robin van Persie, before signing on for the challenge of resurrecting England's biggest club.
For Giggs, the future is uncertain, but he admits that identifying the right man for the manager's job to correct the mistake of appointing Moyes is now the priority.
"The best thing to do is obviously to get the best man for the job and if that takes time, then so be it," Giggs said.
"I don't think necessarily that it needs to be sorted quickly, it's just the best man for the job. Are we in a bit of limbo? Yeah, I see the point, but we've still got a week (of the season) left and when it's going to be sorted out, I don't know."
Van Gaal will undoubtedly inherit a curate's egg when he takes charge.
On the plus side, he will work with the emerging talent of Adnan Januzaj and find the firepower of Van Persie and Wayne Rooney at his disposal.
Van Persie returned from a knee injury against Sunderland, while Rooney trained on Saturday and is likely to be involved against Hull despite a niggling groin problem.
In the debit column, however, will be a midfield in desperate need of quality, energy and forward momentum and a back four that is likely to be decimated by the departures of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra this summer.
Tellingly, the midfield holding pair of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher played in front of a back four including Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra when Sunderland visited Old Trafford in December 2008.
Six years on, all five players are past their best, yet the cupboard is bare in terms of replacements, so good luck Louis.
Ageing legs and substandard youngsters have proven to be a lethal cocktail for United this season, but Evra insists the problems have been down to the absence of one crucial commodity.
"Confidence," Evra said. "I think there has been a lack of confidence. Manchester United is not used to losing so many games in one year, so it has been a new experience for every player was on the team.
"We can do much better than we have done. It has been a disaster year and a season to forget."
For Sunderland, however, this campaign is likely to be remembered as a great one having reached the League Cup final before pulling off a remarkable escape from relegation.
Ten points from four games have propelled Sunderland to safety, with Sebastian Larsson's 30th-minute volley from Connor Wickham's cross proving sufficient to earn the Wearsiders their first victory at Old Trafford since May 1968.
Sunderland hit the post and crossbar in the second half through Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini as they underlined their dominance.
Larsson, one of 11 Sunderland players out of contract at the end of the season, admits that even Poyet's players felt that their top-flight survival hopes were bleak until they began they climb to safety with a draw at Manchester City last month.
"We have been dead and buried loads of times," Larsson said. "But we have shown in the last four games that the togetherness is there.
"Of course it played on your mind being so far adrift. You can't blame people for thinking we were dead and buried. We realised we were in a very difficult position ourselves, but the manager got us to pick up a couple of good results and the confidence has come back." (© Daily Telegraph, London)