Louis van Gaal put his best men out but Manchester United fail to get the points across

Van Gaal had been picking from a position of strength; with United’s injuries finally clearing up, he selected arguably the most powerful starting 11 of his reign. They produced the most muted display.

Louis van Gaal’s decision yesterday to play Angel Di Maria, above, as a striker backfired against Southampton. Peter Powell / EPA
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It was, to give it the technical term at Old Trafford, a Moyes of a result.

Manchester United thought they had put such historic lows at home turf behind them when they sacked David Moyes.

They hoped to banish the memories of a time when Everton won at Old Trafford for the first time in 21 years, Newcastle for the first time in 41 and Swansea for the first.

Louis van Gaal, winner of seven league titles with four clubs, was supposed to bring immunity against such upsets. Instead, Southampton could celebrate a league victory at Old Trafford for the first time since 1988.

Dusan Tadic has supplanted Colin Clarke as the last Saint to score a winner on United’s hallowed turf and, long after the players had vacated the pitch, the Serbian substitute’s name echoed around Old Trafford.

While Tadic mustered the only shot on target in a remarkably uneventful game, that was a tribute to Ronald Koeman’s planning. If this was a meeting of two Dutch managerial masters, Koeman outwitted his ally turned enemy, Van Gaal.

Southampton were expertly configured, man-marking in midfield and ensuring United’s creative talents were deprived of the oxygen that space represents.

Van Gaal had been picking from a position of strength; with United’s injuries finally clearing up, he selected arguably the most powerful starting 11 of his reign. They produced the most muted display.

Van Gaal hardly helped.

Angel Di Maria was miscast as a striker, the most expensive player in the history of British football looking lost.

Wayne Rooney lingered deep in midfield until Robin van Persie, so often the scourge of Southampton, hobbled off.

His hour had been notable for a petulant hack at Jose Fonte, not another precise finish.

Only Juan Mata threatened but, for the first time since 2009, United failed to trouble a visiting goalkeeper at Old Trafford.

“We were the dominating team without creating chances,” said a spiky Van Gaal. He was not a gracious loser.

“They came for a draw and they got away with a victory,” he said, even if he weakened his argument by accepting that United were fortunate to triumph at St Mary’s five weeks ago.

On a day when Van Gaal’s left-field selections backfired, his tactical tinkering appeared all the more needless and his omission of Radamel Falcao from the match-day 18 drew criticism that he failed to answer.

As Koeman was keen to point out, his counterpart ended up with an unashamedly direct approach.

“They put [Marouane] Fellaini up front, they play the long balls,” said the younger manager. “It was difficult.”

Typically, his side coped. Southampton’s triumph was all the more admirable because of the circumstances.

Sadio Mane had been their most dangerous attacker in recent weeks, but he was sidelined. Toby Alderweireld made an imperious start in defence but the Belgian was injured within the first 20 minutes.

“We defended well and the spirit was unbelievable,” Koeman said.

Crucially, too, Southampton were clinical when it mattered.

United were opened up, four men converging in the middle as Tadic released Graziano Pelle.

When the Italian’s shot bounced back off the post, it fell to the replacement to slot past David de Gea.

Mata had three attempts to level the scores but, after taking 25 points from a possible 27 at Old Trafford, United had a setback. It leaves them 12 points adrift of Chelsea and closer to 11th-placed Stoke than the league leaders. Perhaps as pertinently, it leaves them with 38 points after 21 games, the same return as they had 12 months ago.

“All the weeks, you have waited to put this question. The moment I have the same points as David Moyes,” said an exasperated Van Gaal.

At least, the league position is superior, even if United slipped a place as Southampton leapfrogged them to go third.

Their fans, delighting in the prowess of a team some tipped for the drop, sang: “We are staying up.”

With 39 points, they now know they are.


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