MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – 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.
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 to 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 Sunday’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, opining that “they have difficulties to build up with three centre-backs”.
But Van Gaal, whose side have taken six points from a possible 15, rejected the claim and argued that Southampton had been “lucky” to avenge their 2-1 loss to United in December.
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 (Sunday). 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 “because I know I want speed in attack”.
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 next weekend, with Van Gaal revealing at the end of a spiky press conference that Robin van Persie had sustained an ankle injury.
Southampton’s campaign appeared to have come off the rails following a run of four straight defeats in early December, but they have now won four of their last five matches, defeating Arsenal and United and drawing 1-1 at home to leaders Chelsea.