Alarm bells should be ringing at Manchester United following a 1-0 defeat to Southampton yesterday, with manager Louis van Gaal proving with his desperate late tactics that despite spending £150 million last summer things have scarcely improved at Old Trafford over the last 12 months.
Van Gaal has built a reputation as a tactical guru who analyses every situation extensively before making bold, brave decisions if necessary, but his choice to throw on Marouane Fellaini and bang the ball up the big Belgian international late on against Saints was utterly depressing.
United failed to muster a single shot on target in a loss which shows they are still some way behind Chelsea and Manchester City, even if third place in the Premier League table continues to paper over the cracks for the time being.
Injuries are no excuse
Van Gaal has rightly been able to highlight a horrific run of bad luck with injuries when defending sub-par performances ever since taking charge of the Theatre of Dreams, but can't hide behind that excuse after being outgunned by countrymen Ronald Koeman yesterday.
United dominated possession but failed woefully when it came to creating clear-cut opportunities. Juan Mata spurned the best of those sparing opening and elsewhere it was a tactical horror show from Van Gaal, who played Angel di Maria up front in an experiment which bordered on the ridiculous.
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Di Maria moved forward to no effect
The £59.7 million man was expected to be at his creative best in a more advanced position, but Van Gaal has clearly overlooked or forgotten that the Argentine superstar was at his vest best for Real Madrid when driving from deep to start attacks rather than applying the finishing touch.
Van Gaal also continues to stick with 3-5-2 despite central defence clearly being one of the weakest areas of his team at this present moment. With options limited in that area why persist with a system that is failing to get the best from what is clearly a very talented, expensively assembled group of players?
Substitute omissions are baffling
United fans will no doubt still be shocked by Van Gaal's decision to leave both Radamel Falcao and Adnan Januzaj out of his 18-man squad altogether, insisting that due to Di Maria and Shaw's recent fitness struggles he had to err on the side of caution and pick more defensive-minded options on the bench.
Quite frankly that excuse doesn't wash though, particularly when you consider James Wilson was picked ahead of the Colombian superstar as a sub in the squad to face Saints.
Having seven alternatives waiting on the sidelines is a luxury top managers are very lucky to have these days, if Falcao truly wasn't carrying any injury problems leaving him out yesterday was a bold move too far for Van Gaal, who hasn't produced substance to match his claims and boasts over the last six months.
Same points as Moyes
Van Gaal has now collected the same number of points from 21 Premier League games as his predecessor David Moyes, who was widely lambasted and ultimately sacked for delivering a very similar set of results to the Dutch tactician.
Now Van Gaal will argue with some authority of truth that he's stepped in sort out the mess left by Moyes and needs more time, but that was a luxury the Scot was not afforded.
United are lucky in the sense that the Premier League is significantly weaker this season. Arsenal have toiled, a Luis Suarez-less Liverpool continue to struggle and the chasing pack for Champions League football must prove they have the staying power to match strong starts.
Finishing in the top four will and earning a return to Europe's elite club competition will satisfy the minimum expectations of Man United chiefs, but both in terms of results and performances Van Gaal still has a long way to go before proving he was worth all the fuss and strong backing in the transfer market for the time being.
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