5 dilemmas on Van Gaal’s mind ahead of Saints trip

Published 09/18/2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Bitter foes Van Gaal and Koeman lock horns on Sunday for a mouthwatering clash at St.Mary’s


With a disappointing loss to PSV Eindhoven in the mid-week Champions League opener, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has a lot of things on his plate. The weekend poses a big threat for the club as they face a tough trip to the south coast to St. Mary’s Stadium to take on Southampton.

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To compound his woes, United lost Luke Shaw, arguably their best player so far this season, to injury, meaning that either Argentine Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones or Paddy McNair would play in the ex-Southampton man’s place.

The game also renews Van Gaal’s fierce rivalry with fellow Dutchman and Saints boss Ronald Koeman. Last season, United edged past a determined Southampton before losing to them at the latter’s home ground in January. This rivalry shall further spice up this mouth watering clash.

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Here are other such issues the Louis van Gaal has to sort out before Sunday’s game.

5. Left Back Conundrum

Perhaps the biggest setback for the Red Devils from their opening Champions League fixture was the horrific injury to Luke Shaw. This would mean that Manchester United would have to change their back four for the first time this season. It is most likely that the versatile Dutchman Daley Blind would take Shaw’s spot on the pitch with Phil Jones or Marcos Rojo pairing up with Smalling. This would mean that the centre back partnership of Smalling and Blind would have to be broken.

It would be interesting to see which of the two starts with Smalling against the Saints. Rojo would be an apt choice as he offers more solidity than Jones and has already played for an hour against PSV. The left back would have to deal with the in-form Sadio Mane and keeping him quiet could go a long way in determining who wins the game.

4. Striker Problems

With the new signing Anthony Martial impressing in both his appearances so far, coach Van Gaal has to decide whether he would hand the youngster his first Premier League start or play skipper Wayne Rooney again as the lone striker.

It would rather be Martial as the striker given his confidence, pace and physicality and Rooney in the No.10 role. Having said that, if Martial starts, this could well be a bridge too far for the talented teen and throwing the youngster in the deep end may have devastating consequences.

Former Red Devils hitman Ruud Van Nistelrooy also backs the young Frenchman to lead United’s strike-force. With Marouane Fellaini proving to be ineffective as a striker against Liverpool, United have to choose between the two for Sunday’s game.

3. The No. 10 Merry-Go-Round

Since the start of the season, the one position that has been tinkered with extensively is the No. 10 slot. With manager Louis van Gaal keen to deploy his proven 4-2-3-1 formation, the need for finding an effective No. 10 is paramount. From Memphis Depay to Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata, United haven’t had a settled man at this important position.

Skipper Wayne Rooney should play there, as it would give him a chance to control the game and also link up play with new signings Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial. Another aspect of Rooney’s game is that he can utilise the pace of the duo and showcase his wide repertoire of passing and play them into goal scoring positions. Having just come back from a tight hamstring injury, this position would allow him to play himself in and then dominate the game.

2. Left Winger Toss-Up

This is undoubtedly the biggest of the headaches that Van Gaal would be going through ahead of the game against old foe Ronald Koeman. With both Ashley Young and 21 year old Memphis Depay competing for the left winger’s slot, the coach has to choose which of the two would be better suited for the game.

Either ways, they would have to encounter feisty full back Cedric Soares. It would be wise to go for Young first and if the Englishman is found to be ineffective, then replace him with Depay.

It is likely that Young would just edge Depay for this slot in spite of the latter’s goal in the game against PSV. Having said that, Depay has started in all of United’s Premier League fixtures this season and it looks unlikely that the fellow Dutchman will change that.

1. Centre Back Pairing

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Playing Daley Blind as a full back would mean that the centre back pairing of Blind and Smalling would have to be done away with. United have three other centre backs in their first team squad namely Rojo, Jones and Paddy McNair.

Rojo hasn’t played a full competitive match since the Copa America final while Jones has just recovered from a bout of thrombosis and risking youngster McNair in such a high pressure game against the Saints could be disastrous.

Rojo is better equipped to deal with Southampton’s forwards Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic than Jones and even McNair. Rojo played for an hour in the mid-week game in Eindhoven so that match experience should hold him in good stead.

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All in all, the United-Southampton game promises to be an exciting one with a lot of star quality on display. United might just edge out a victory due to their better midfield and balance.

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D. Sairam

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