LONDON, February 9 – Manchester United’s under-performing forwards forced manager Louis van Gaal into adopting long-ball tactics, the Dutchman said after his side snatched a 1-1 draw at West Ham.
United started with Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Angel di Maria and Adnan Januzaj at Upton Park on Sunday, but it took a stoppage-time volley from Daley Blind to earn the visitors a point after Cheikhou Kouyate had given West Ham a deserved 49th-minute lead.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said United’s strategy was “thump it forward and see what happens”, and Van Gaal admitted that the introduction of gangly Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini as a 72nd-minute substitute had heralded a change of tack.
“I’ve done that already a lot of times with Fellaini, so that is not new,” said Van Gaal, who lost Luke Shaw to a late red card after the United left-back received a second booking for a lunge at Stewart Downing.
“West Ham United should know that. But with him we have more power. With Adnan and Di Maria, we have more creative players.
“And that’s why the second ball, you cannot always win with these players, but you have to win (it). Otherwise I have to line up always players like Fellaini.”
Van Gaal claimed that United’s failure to win the second ball had been their major failing, but the visitors also looked bereft of ideas when they did have possession.
Falcao squandered a good opportunity when he stabbed wide with only Adrian to beat, but aside from a couple of saves to deny Van Persie, the West Ham goalkeeper was scarcely troubled until Blind struck in the 92nd minute.
The Dutch utility player’s goal was his second last-gasp equaliser of the season, after another late strike at West Bromwich Albion in October.
But while it preserved a run of unbeaten away matches stretching back to November 2, the draw represented a missed opportunity for United, who could have closed to within three points of second-place Manchester City in the Premier League table.
– Terrific skill –
Asked if his side had squandered a chance to put pressure on City, who drew 1-1 with Hull City on Saturday, Van Gaal replied: “Yes. I’m agreeing with that before the game.
“You know what it is. They have lost points, then you can make a gap with your competitors. Now you don’t make this gap, so it is a missed chance.”
While United will expect to return to winning ways at home to struggling Burnley on Wednesday, West Ham face a trip to Southampton, who held on to third place thanks to Sunday’s result at Upton Park.
West Ham will also face Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal before the middle of March, but Allardyce said his players could take heart from their display against United.
“It’s not the result we deserved or wanted, but we’re back to a level we know we can play at, which has been difficult to get to over that Christmas/New Year period with injuries, the African Nations Cup and so on,” he told his post-match press conference.
Allardyce said that striker Andy Carroll had a chance of facing Southampton after missing Sunday’s game with an ankle problem.
Injuries to James Collins and Winston Reid saw midfielder Kouyate pressed into action at centre-back and Allardyce was full of praise for the Senegal international’s performance, which he crowned with a delightful goal that saw him juggle the ball twice before volleying home.
“We know he played there for Anderlecht and Senegal, but what we didn’t now was, can he play with the right tactical awareness and discipline you need as a central defender in the Premier League? And of course he proved he could,” Allardyce said.
“The icing on the cake was the quality of his goal. In such a tight area, to flick it round and volley it in was a terrific piece of skill and at that time it was nothing more than we deserved.”