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.”
The Dutchman added: “The players are disappointed because we thought we would win today (Sunday), and yet we have one point and it’s not good enough for Manchester United.
“I can’t say it was a better performance than last week because we didn’t create as many chances as against Swansea. Our passing needs to be better because we gave the ball away a lot when I didn’t expect us to.”
Van Gaal couldn’t 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 £60 million ($99 million, 75 million euro)-rated Argentinian midfielder.
“I can’t say about transfers at the moment,” he explained. “When a transfer has been finished then we can say something but now you have to wait and see.
“The club has to announce it. When we are thinking it’s the right time to announce it then we’ll come to you and say we’ve bought this player or that player, but at the moment we can’t say anything.”
– Smalling blow –
Showing his sense of humour hasn’t 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 on Tuesday.
Van Gaal — who refused to condemn Ashley Young for a second-half dive that earned the England midfielder a caution — said: “We had seven players out injured before this game, so now with Chris, that’s eight.
“It’s too early to say if he might be out for some time. I’m not a doctor. It’s an unusual situation to have four midfield players out injured. That would impact on any club.
“That’s why I played Adnan Januzaj in central midfield when I brought him on.”
Sunderland performed well enough to have claimed a first home league win over United for 17 years.
But coach Gus Poyet was far from disappointed after his side claimed a second point of the campaign with a battling display.
“We were the best team for long spells, but the fact that we’ve not won isn’t a wasted opportunity, it’s still a point against Manchester United,” he said.
“I think they will finish in the top four,” the Uruguayan added.
“It’s a different set-up for them without doubt and it’s strange to see them playing three at the back, but give Louis van Gaal time and he will get things right.”