Manchester United have been unconvincing at best over their 10-match unbeaten run and arguably very lucky to take points from the top four clubs.
Another impotent attacking display against Southampton at Old Trafford was on show on Sunday, with United failing to get a single shot on target all afternoon.
What was greatly concerning was that it seemed that Louis van Gaal lost the game the moment he sent out that awful team-sheet.
Robin van Persie is 31 but started and Radamel Falcao was supposedly rested. Logically no manger rests a world-class striker for a top-of-the-table clash. Leaving Van Persie out would be understandable as he is 31 and prone to injury, but deliberately leaving a star player out of the match day squad for a major game is simply self sabotage.
The situation was worsened by the poor decision to play Angel di Maria as a forward on the basis that he has pace and will be deadly on the counter. Playing your chief creative force upfront is ludicrous; Di Maria is a quality playmaker who belongs in the midfield supplying crosses to forwards like Falcao and testing the keeper from range.
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The Wrong Formation
Playing three centre=backs is generally effective with versatile players who flow easily from attack to defence, however, it is a very defensive formation popular in Italy where a dogged defending mentality is often accepted. This in no way suits the out-and-out attacking players on the books of United.
This match highlighted as many others before that 3-5-2 does not offer Manchester United penetration or enough attacking opportunity, van Gaal said United dominated, but in truth all United had was passive possession with little to no attacking impetus. Having 60% of the ball and hitting the target zero times clearly shows van Gaal was tactically found to be wanting.
In Holland Van Gaal is known as a man who is always correcting his "mistakes", at half time it was expected he would do this, but the substitutions which followed in the second half left most fans wondering if the manager was trying to lose.
Luke Shaw was poor Van Gaal was within well within his rights to pull him off, but the decision to take of Di Maria was astounding.
What was more shocking was he continued with three centre halves while a goal down. It would have been advisable to pull off a centre back and throw James Wilson, shifting Di Maria to midfield and trying to win. None of these sensible things were done and a doomed United were left with no chance trying to chase the game with only one man up front and five at the back.
Mata yet to produce against top teams
Brought in last season for nearly £40 million, Juan Mata was supposed to be the creative spark to get United back to winning ways, to say he has underwhelmed so far is an understatement. According to Squawka stats the Spaniard has featured four times this season against top five clubs and has seven scoring chances, no goals and no assists, a poor showing for a man who was player of the year twice at Chelsea.
His Chelsea counter-part Cesc Farbegas against the same opposition has produced eight scoring chances, one goal and four assists. This highlights a key problem at Manchester United which was evident against Southampton, big name names are not producing against the top clubs.
A combination of terrible tactics, poor substitutions and generally passive play conspired to relegate United to being second best at the Theatre of Dreams, arguably Southampton deserved all three points and were rightly rewarded.
Following this match many United supporters will be left pondering whether five at the back is the way to go and if Juan Mata can ever produce the goods against the best of the best.
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