Louis van Gaal is a fierce critic of English football’s congested holiday fixture schedule so it came as a big surprise when he named an unchanged Manchester United team to play Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday.
Less than 48 hours after beating Newcastle United 3-1, Van Gaal sent out the same 11 players at Spurs, the first time the Old Trafford team have been unchanged in 85 league matches going back to November, 2012.
The decision seemed to be justified as United started strongly and peppered the Tottenham goal but they failed to beat keeper Hugo Lloris and were hanging on in the second half for a 0-0 draw that left them third in the table.
“It’s the culture of England but I don’t think the human body can recover in 48 hours so good,” the Dutchman told reporters.
“The players couldn’t recover in two days. It was an ugly match.”
He did make changes in the second half, hauling off defenders Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair, but his vaunted four-pronged strike force of Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata played the full game.
Young forward James Wilson was left kicking his heels on the bench as United ran out of steam and paid the price for a profligate first half in which Lloris excelled.
“We had the best performance of Manchester United this season in the first half,” Van Gaal said. “We could have scored four or five goals but we didn’t reward ourselves.
“In the second half it was more a struggle than football I think.”
Van Gaal had had to deal with a plethora of injuries in his first five months at United, particularly in defence.
He started with Evans, McNair and Phil Jones in a three-man rearguard against Spurs, supported by wing backs Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.
Brazilian Rafael replaced Valencia at halftime and Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw came on in the closing stages as Van Gaal continues to work out his best defensive system.
Spurs enjoyed a late spell of possession and created chances to nick victory, leaving the Dutchman frustrated despite a run of seven wins and two draws in the last nine games.
“We lost two points,” he said. “I would have been satisfied with our position if we had won today because we would have had 38 points from 19 matches halfway through the season.”