Van Gaal's baffling tactics deliver huge blow to Man Utd's top-four hopes

 Whatever the circumstances surrounding United's arrival at White Hart Lane it was their manager who did the most damage to their top-four hopes

If this was the afternoon their Champions League dream died, many will remember the roleLouis van Gaal played in Manchester United’s demise as a dreadful second-half display saw them go down to a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

Their coach may well have been delayed on the way to White Hart Lane, causing a 30-minute delay to kick-off and forcing United into a shortened warm-up, but in truth that caused nowhere near the same level of damage as the Dutchman’s tactics as United conceded three quickfire goals in north London for the second time this season.

Van Gaal decided at half-time to replace Marcus Rashford with Ashley Young. In itself, it was not the most senseless of decisions. However, rather than push Anthony Martial into the central striker role and use Young on his natural left side, the United manager asked the substitute to play as the lone front man.

A player just returning from almost three months out, playing an unfamiliar role away to a side challenging for the Premier League title who were bound to force the pace and leave United looking to their front man to win them important time and space on the ball… It was a recipe for disaster.

From the moment Dele Alli put Spurs ahead it was always going to be an uphill task, and Van Gaal was forced to switch things around up front for the final 15 minutes after United had been hit by a trio of Spurs goals.

And while there were mitigating factors to Van Gaal’s second substitution, with Matteo Darmian coming on to replace the impressive but injured Tim Fosu-Mensah, that change could not have gone worse either.

Darmian was brutally exposed after being left to fend with Christian Eriksen one-on-one, and when the Dane slid across a first-time ball for Alli at the far post Spurs had a lead they were never going to lose.

Just a few minutes later the Italian clattered into Harry Kane with a rash challenge which was punished by Toby Alderweireld’s header from the resulting free-kick. As if that wasn’t enough, Danny Rose then attacked Darmian’s flank, drew his man and delivered low for Erik Lamela to grab a third. In the space of six minutes, Spurs had ruined Darmian’s afternoon.

Having seen Arsenal tear right through them in their last visit to north London, United couldn’t have asked for a more chastening experience than this.

United now sit four points adrift of Manchester City in the race for fourth place, and while they have a fairly favourable run-in there are simply no guarantees with this side this season. The inconsistencies which have blighted the Red Devils’ campaign suggest that a run of six straight wins to see out the term is the last thing anyone should expect from United.

This was the afternoon when City well and truly gained the upper hand in the battle for Champions League football. And despite the countless excuses available to Van Gaal after this shocker, nobody is more culpable than the manager himself.