Football

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.

DECISIONS

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.