United’s defense dealt another blow as Smalling tears groin

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As Louis van Gaal continues to search for his starting back line, he has lost another player to injury.

Chris Smalling was forced off in United’s win over Southampton early in the first half and will now be out two weeks with a tear in his groin.

[ RECAP: Southampton 1-2 Manchester United ]

After Smalling was taken out of the match, van Gaal shocked many when he subbed off defender Paddy McNair soon after in the first half. Replaced by attacking midfielder Ander Hererra, United was in complete disarray with only two backs before Michael Carrick received instruction to shift into the defense.

Confusion has been present all season long with United’s defense, as the team lost three of their four starting backs over the summer in Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.

[ RELATED: Former Manchester United assistant blames injuries on the club ]

Jonny Evans came on for Smalling to make just his fourth Premier League appearance of the year after battling a foot injury. Both Luke Shaw and Phil Jones have both missed long spells of play with injury as well.

The young McNair had done well in his time as an injury replacement, but after being taken off in the first half against Saints, van Gaal may prefer to go with more experience moving forward.

[ VIDEO: Breaking down van Gaal’s tactics against Southampton ]

With van Gaal’s preference to play with three center backs, Michael Carrick could be forced to play in the defense rather than the midfield. Carrick would likely center a back-three with Marcos Rojo and possibly Jonny Evans. If Evans is not fit for 90 minutes, could van Gaal call upon another youngster in Tyler Blackett?

Despite all the names and confusion circling Manchester United’s defense, the club has won five straight Premier League matches and sit third on the table. If the back line can stay healthy for the second half of the season, United could be a true threat to make a run for the title.