My name is Professor Pangloss, and I have a problem. I didn't think United's loss against West Brom was that bad.
It wasn't good; if there is such a thing as a good loss, this wasn't one of them. Because it was West Brom at home, for a start, and because it was the third in a row, for an end. And many of the problems were familiar ones, including the inexplicable presence of Wayne Rooney in midfield (and so consequently not up front, on which more later) and this profoundly frustrating carousel of possession that United seem so happy to ride, around and around, going largely nowhere.
But. There are losses and there are losses, and this being the third in the row means we have easy points of comparison. Forget about the Chelsea game: they are a Mourinho team waxing full Mourinho, and thinking about that will only do bad things to your blood pressure. Compare and contrast with Everton. There's a lot to compare. But there's also lot to contrast.
Against Everton, United were a shambles in defence, unable to deal with such complex challenges as 'people running fast in straight lines' and ' marking from set pieces' and 'the offside rule'. And they were blunt in attack, mustering a mere four shots on target, only one of which — Fellaini's fluffed shot — really sticks in the mind as a Good Chance. They didn't create enough at one end, in short, and they failed to do so while actively punching themselves in the face at the other.
Against West Brom, though, United defended generally competently and created more than enough chances to win the thing; the problem was the failure to take them. Robin van Persie's penalty is the most obvious example, but United had nine shots on target in total: Boaz Myhill had to make several smart saves; Ashley Young made a mess of his decent chance; and both Robin van Persie and Paddy McNair put presentable chances narrowly wide. And yes, home sides tend to make more chances than away, but this needs to be set against the fact that one defence had been organised by Tony Pulis, grandmaster of that sort of thing, the other by Roberto Martinez, who seems nice.
This is not to excuse anybody: not Van Gaal for his peculiar tactical tweaks; not Van Persie for his miserable finishing; not Angel di Maria for his hideous cameo. Nor is it to dismiss the obvious similarities: the long spells of sterile domination; the incoherence that ensues whenever United have to move a couple of players around; and the fact that United are really quite dull a lot of the time. And it certainly isn't to attempt to deny that United have a serious problem when it comes to breaking down defences.
But in the end, United failed to beat West Brom because Robin van Persie's finishing went to pieces, either due to his advancing age or his lack of match sharpness, and so did everybody else's. And they lost to West Brom because it's really difficult to save a free kick that takes a massive deflection of Jonas Olsson's arse.
Whereas United failed to beat Everton because they turned up beach-ready, cigar in mouth and flip-flops on feet, then proceeded to defend like children and attack like old men. Of the two, the latter seems by far the most concerning. The former, meanwhile, felt much more like just one of those games: sometimes the ball just won't go in, and sometimes Tony Pulis ruins everybody's day. Perhaps Van Gaal was right to declare that he's lacking a dead-eyed striker.
All of this is possibly drivel, and certainly of no use in making the West Brom game feel any less frustrating. But there we are. My name is Professor Pangloss, and I have a problem. I didn't think United's loss against West Brom was that bad. I'm almost certainly wrong. Tell me why I'm wrong.