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Premier League

West Ham vs Southampton: Ronald Koeman shows his fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal how it’s done


A new Dutch manager, a blur of transfer activity, one point from the opening two matches. So far, so familiar. Yet the fortunes of Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman have diverged sharply since midweek. While Manchester United lost at Milton Keynes and were then held at Burnley, Koeman’s Southampton have won at Millwall and West Ham United.

In truth, they were never on a par. In Manchester Van Gaal has been spending, hugely, at Southampton they have been selling, massively. Yet it is the latter who are prospering. Unlike his compatriot Koeman has not been begging for time, insisting he would take months to impose his philosophy on a team which he has had to remodel drastically. Maybe that is part of his success, for it gives players no excuse for a slow start.

“It is difficult to have time in football, still more in the big clubs, you have to make results,” said Koeman. “I understand [Van Gaal] needs time, I need time as well, but in the meantime you have to win and develop the team. You can’t say, ‘Give me one season’. This is a difficult season for us as well, after being eighth last season it will be tough to keep that position, but if you play like we did here in the second half then maybe we can reach sixth or seventh.

“I knew that some players were leaving, I knew at that moment we had to change the team. The first day we worked on our philosophy, how we like to play.


“We don’t have players to play the long ball, the second ball, we have players with technical qualities who, with good ball position and good movement, try to create something for us. People like that because it is the nicest way to play football.”

Koeman’s philosophy is a variant on the traditional Dutch 4-3-3. On Saturday, Morgan Schneiderlin, who seems to have given up on a move to Tottenham for the time being at least, sat at the base of a narrow midfield three who were uniformly excellent. The full-backs pushed on and the forwards used the full width of the pitch.

With Koeman still seeking a winger before the transfer window closes today, this meant Shane Long, a £12m striker who is good at working the channels but by no means a wide player, hugged the flank. A square peg in a round hole but one who did his best to fit.

That positivity was at the heart of Southampton’s approach. Koeman spoke afterwards of dreaming about the Champions League “in three years” and in the meantime aiming for a cup triumph.  At the final whistle Saints’ players threw their shirts to the crowd, evidence of what this first league win meant to players and fans. Meanwhile, West Ham’s players trudged to the dressing room where, Sam Allardyce revealed, they sat in silence while he delivered “a short sharp blast”.

Allardyce, who said he hoped new recruit Alex Song would “provide some leadership”, added: “You can’t defend the indefensible.”