Playing this pair out of position was van Gaal's most costly mistake in Saints loss

Manchester United paid the price for playing Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria in positions that aren't natural to them against Southampton.

Despite having only one player unavailable for selection, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal continued to use some of the club's key individuals out of position in their dismal 1-0 defeat to Southampton yesterday.

Prior to the fixture, Red Devils supporters were buoyed by news that record transfer Di Maria was fit to play again, and many hoped his return would rejuvenate the United side that had drawn their previous two Premier League matches against Stoke City and Tottenham.

However, spectators were left scratching their heads when the line-up was announced and it had Argentina's Player of the Year partnering Robin Van Persie in attack. Onlookers were left even more confused to see United captain Wayne Rooney occupying the central midfield position where Di Maria has so often proven his class.

Both men had a game to forget at Old Trafford with neither, or the remainder of the first 11, able to muster a single shot on target for the home side.

Rooney, who has had previous success in the deeper midifeld position, was wasteful in possession and generally ineffective all throughout the match. Di Maria on the other hand has little experience as a striker, but seemed to be trying to replicate the 'Arjen Robben role' for the Netherlands that sees him also partner Van Persie.

It was a decision that really backfired on the United manager and his team as they severely lacked a creative engine that could drive the team forward with pace from midfield. The build-up play was quite often too slow, lacking imagination and a bit of risk. Southampton's stubborn defensive line always looked assured against the nullified United attack. 

Had Di Maria and Rooney started the game in their natural positions we might have seen a very different outcome. The former Real Madrid man would certainly have given Wanyama and Schneiderlin a little more to think about with his wicked pace and dribbling ability.

Di Maria is clearly wasted in positions like centre forward where he has little space to run. Never in his career has he proven he could be a natural goalscorer like Rooney or Robben, who it appeared he was trying to emulate. Sure, United's number seven isn't he most astute passer of the ball for a midfielder, but that can be forgiven when one of the riskier passes he plays pays off and results in a goal, which it has in the past.

Similarly to Di Maria, Rooney's ability to pick out another red shirt was atrocious as he could only mange a pass accuracy score of 75.9%. It's a surprise statistic for the England international, who is regarded to be among the most complete players in world football, and one that does not shy away from the big games.

These two are arguably United's most important and talented players, and to play them out of position in order to accommodate teammates of lesser quality is a mistake. United fans won't see the best of either player until van Gaal utilises them in the positions that made them the world class players they are today.

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