Five reasons behind Man United's loss
MAN UNITED 0
(Dusan Tadic 69)
The last time Southampton won at Old Trafford in the league, Kylie Minogue topped the UK charts for the first time.
That was 1988 and Manchester United's loss to the Saints yesterday morning (Singapore time) felt like a step back in time. Suddenly, Louis van Gaal's resume seems less relevant than recent results.
1 Van Gaal can't make up his mind
Rather predictably, the Dutchman snapped at the interviewer, but the statistic was damning and deserved a comment.
Van Gaal has the same number of points - 37 - as David Moyes at the same time last season. The only difference was Moyes knew what he wanted, from a tactical perspective.
It wasn't what the club wanted - a cynical, slower game with a static back four and balls lumped towards Marouane Fellaini - but Moyes' cautious approach was as obvious as it was incongruous.
Van Gaal, on the other hand, is all over the place. The only difference between a revolutionary, improvisational coach and an erratic, schizophrenic coach is success.
Van Gaal has spent more money than Moyes ever did, tinkered and rotated more frequently and spoken more aggressively only to be equally inconsistent and uncertain.
Like their manager, United are a muddled mess of contradictions.
2 Farcical formations
Thanks to all of the above, United's hapless pawns on a Dutch chessboard are never sure where they're supposed to be or what they're supposed to be doing should they ever get there.
United's line-up and personnel against Southampton defied both the common consensus and common sense.
Provisionally, the line-up ran out in a 3-1-4-2 formation, but slowly morphed into a surreal 3-3-2-2, with van Gaal seemingly playing a sadistic game with himself to bend as many of his players out of shape as possible.
His determination to pick both three defenders and his favoured enforcer Daley Blind forced him to combine the two, which left Michael Carrick whistling in the wind.
The United's midfielder's only companion was tumbleweed drifting by. He was a lost and lonely soul whenever Steven Davis cut inside to neutralise the shackled playmaker.
Ronald Koeman had anticipated United's back three. What he hadn't expected was the added bonus of a narrow, lighter Red Devils attack, which encouraged him to introduce Dusan Tadic in the second half and push on for the winner.
Koeman's 4-3-3 was slightly narrower than normal, anticipating United's lack of defensive width, but his formation was otherwise consistent and disciplined throughout.
In comparison, van Gaal looked like an unscrupulous bingo caller, making up the numbers as he goes along.
3 Three's a crowded penalty box
Tactical analysts are suggesting that this season will be remembered as the Season of the Back Three, which in the case of United is rather like saying the year in film will be remembered for Dumb and Dumber To.
Van Gaal envisions rampaging Red Devils breaking from the back and slicing through back-pedalling midfields with breathtaking, counter-attacking precision.
But it all begins at the back with the kind of languid, leggy, elegant centre back who now makes up the numbers at Queens Park Rangers.
Rio Ferdinand was born to play van Gaal's way, but the United manager arrived five years too late for a tactical match made in heaven.
He's stuck with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling instead. They are mostly competent and dependable, but remain Volvos in a formation that requires Rolls Royces to really flourish.
Against Southampton, they were tasked with supporting Carrick to push back Victor Wanyama but lacked the authority to retain possession for long enough, treating the ball like an explosive device.
Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw couldn't trust the back three and the back three couldn't depend on their wing backs to retreat when required, so none of them functioned effectively (and Smalling went AWOL for Southampton's goal).
Even van Gaal wasn't convinced by his personnel, sticking three centre backs on the bench instead of Radamel Falcao. To borrow the car analogy again, United left a classic Ferrari at home and added three mopeds.
4 Awful in attack
United spent close to £150 million ($304m) in pre-season. Against Southampton, they failed to muster a shot on target at Old Trafford for the first time in more than five years.
Managers are sacked for less.
Van Gaal's inability to tweak tactics, bolster the defence and use either Blind or Fellaini as additional sandbags around Carrick have all conspired to neuter his own attack.
His front four were isolated and impotent. The 3-3-2-2 cut Carrick adrift, left Valencia and Shaw caught between too stools, forced Wayne Rooney into a pointless, thankless role in No Man's Land and reminded everyone at Old Trafford why Jose Mourinho hoards so much silverware across Europe.
Juan Mata just can't find a role that suits him. An undoubted talent, the Spaniard's depressing drift towards the game's periphery pleases no one.
A return to La Liga may re-energise the flagging artist. Against Southampton, both Mata and Rooney might as well have worn straightjackets.
But the Falcao factor remains the expensively glamorous elephant in the room. He was dropped from the bench in favour of teenager James Wilson.
Questions must be asked of the Colombian's signing, which is looking ever more like the panic-buy of Fellaini last season.
5 Right players, wrong positions
Angel di Maria running around aimlessly up front with Robin van Persie made for an agonising spectacle.
Watching him chase scraps across the penalty box was as depressing as watching a violin soloist bang a tambourine. His talents were squandered.
United's attack had all the bite of a Gummy Bear. Rooney's endless rotation must be trying the skipper's patience.
Blind's game is better served in midfield and Valencia always seems to be pulling at the leash to join the fun up front.
The only United performer sure of his regular position is David de Gea (who should be tempted by Real Madrid's overtures).
To add insult to further insult, Fellaini replaced di Maria up front - another player deployed in the wrong position. In desperation, long balls were cannoned towards the Belgian's afro.
And, in that moment, United looked just like the United of old - David Moyes' United.
Van Gaal in press conferences is always talking about getting a better level of performance, but we’re not seeing that yet.
- Former Man United defender Gary Neville
BY THE NUMBERS
Manchester United did not have a single shot on target. The last time that happened in a league game at Old Trafford was in May 2009.
The Red Devils have the same number of points as they did after 21 games last season.
Van Gaal on the defensive
SUPER SAINT: Scorer Dusan Tadic (No. 11) is one of 10 signings Ronald Koeman made in the summer. - PHOTO: CARL RECINE/ ACTION IMAGES
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was forced to defend both his tactics and squad management, following a disjointed 1-0 home defeat by Southampton in the Premier League yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Substitute Dusan Tadic's 69th-minute goal earned Southampton a first victory at Old Trafford since January 1988, which allowed Ronald Koeman's side to climb above United into third place in the table.
Victory was the visitors' reward for a disciplined and intelligent display, but United misfired badly in attack, failing to muster a shot on target in a home league game for the first time since a 0-0 draw with Arsenal in May 2009.
On that occasion, the draw was enough to give United the league title, but yesterday's defeat left them with 37 points from 21 games - the same amount as van Gaal's hapless predecessor David Moyes had mustered at this stage last season.
Koeman suggested that United were having trouble adapting to van Gaal's preference for a three-man defence, saying that "they have difficulties to build up with three centre backs".
But van Gaal rejected the claim and argued that Southampton had been "lucky" to avenge their 2-1 loss to United last month.
Asked if United had struggled to bring the ball out of defence, he replied: "I don't think so, because we were the dominating team. You have seen that today. That for me is not any question."
Van Gaal also had to explain his decision to omit Radamel Falcao from his 18-man squad, having selected 19-year-old striker James Wilson ahead of the Colombia international.
With Luke Shaw, Daley Blind and Angel di Maria playing after injury, van Gaal said he needed defensive and midfield cover on the bench and had plumped for Wilson over Falcao.
"As a coach, you have to make decisions and you have to look at the composition of your team and your selection and you have to look at your game plan," he said.
"Therefore, I have to decide that he (Falcao) is out of the 18 because I have to change, for example, Shaw and di Maria.
"You have to look also at the needs of your selection at that time.
"We have a lot of players who are coming back and Falcao has played the last five matches in a row."
In the end, van Gaal threw Marouane Fellaini on as an auxiliary striker, but Juan Mata squandered late chances to equalise when he failed to convert a pair of excellent opportunities created by Blind.
Falcao may get a recall at Queens Park Rangers this weekend, with van Gaal revealing at the end of a spiky press conference that Robin van Persie had sustained an ankle injury.
After losing the likes of Shaw, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren last summer, the Saints were expected to struggle this season, but remarkably the south-coast club are now just 10 points shy of leaders Chelsea.
Koeman insists his team's Champions League aspirations are more than just a pipe dream.
"We know that we have a strong team and that was important at the end of last month," he said.
"We got a point against Chelsea and the three points against Arsenal. That creates belief in the players. That is what you need if you are not a big club - belief in the players, not afraid of the name or the stadium. We learnt that.
"I am not surprised we won. We have organisation. If we keep the spirit and the organisation, we can keep in front in the table." - Wire Services.