They say the mark of a top team is when they can win games when playing badly. If that's true, then this team may well go down in history as one of the all-time greats. Manchester United turned in an utterly abject performance away at Southampton, but the hosts' wastefulness in front of goal combined with Robin van Persie's uncharacteristic precision to seal a 2-1 victory.
The tone for the entire game was set in the first quarter of an hour, in which Southampton dominated the possession before José Fonte's dodgy backpass sent van Persie through on goal in the 13th minute. The Dutchman calmly slotted the ball underneath the legs of Fraser Forster, and United had the lead. Alas, even after the goal Southampton continued on the front foot, and before long the Reds' injury list lengthened as Chris Smalling was forced into making way for Jonny Evans.
United offered absolutely nothing in attack, and struggled to string more than a couple of passes together. Eventually, they paid the price when Steven Davis dribbled straight past Michael Carrick and into the penalty area, initiating a goalmouth scramble that culminated in Graziano Pellè hitting the back of the net. van Gaal responded by hauling off the struggling Paddy McNair and replacing him with Ander Herrera, but by halftime, United were lucky to be level.
It was a similar story in the second period, with Shane Long and Pellè both failing to take huge chances in front of goal. However, the longer Southampton went without making their chances count, the more United's confidence of nicking a winner grew. Eventually, with 20 minutes left, they did: an unmarked van Persie deftly touching Wayne Rooney's free-kick past Forster and into the back of the net for 2-1. From there, the Reds hung on for an unconvincing victory.