In their first home defeat since the opening day of the season, Manchester United failed to register a single shot on target against Southampton, who snatched a victory thanks to substitute Dusan Tadic’s second half goal.
The result saw the Saints leapfrog Van Gaal’s men to reach the third place in the Premier League. They now have 37 points after 21 league games under Van Gaal, the exact same points United had under David Moyes at this time last season. Despite spending more than 100 million this season, Van Gaal has failed to make an impact.
Although United were in decent form and were unbeaten in ten games in EPL before Sunday’s loss, not once in those games they outplayed or outclassed any of their opposition. United supporters know very well that they were riding their luck throughout the 10-game unbeaten run and never looked like the United that opposition feared two years back.
Van Gaal spent £153m in the summer and brought the likes of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and a few more to the club and surely raised the morale and belief at Old Trafford, but football is a result-oriented business. Despite having superstars in their ranks, the Red Devils have struggled against a number of teams.
Seen as a master tactician, LVG’s tactics have looked weird so far this season. The Dutchman has placed huge emphasis on getting control of the ball but with three at the back, the Red Devils are having some major problems building up the play. Penetration through the pitch has been an issue and despite keeping the possession, United have failed to make most of it in the final third where it matters the most. The much of United’s possession has been in deep areas.
On Sunday, Van Gaal opted for a 3-5-2 approach but with weird twists and turns. Daley Blind played left centre-back, Di Maria upfront alongside Robin van Persie, and Wayne Rooney played in the midfield. But the biggest shock was when Falcao was not even named on the bench despite being fit. After ten minutes in the game, it was out in the open that this will be a cagey affair and one goal for either team will be enough to settle this tie.
As Old Trafford demanded for a goal, United pushed on but never changed strategy. The lack of adjustment, or even attempted adjustment, from Van Gaal was somewhat astonishing. And when United went behind, the match situation demanded some tactical switch but other than changing a few things here and there, United never looked comfortable in the middle despite all the possession.
The 20-time champions, who are expecting to be back in the Champions League at least if not win the EPL, cannot take anything for granted and LVG, without wasting any time, needs to get his tactics right. Else, this is going to be another long, long season for Man United and their supporters. Another mid-table finish from this stage should not surprise fans at Old Trafford.