Manchester United suffered a late defeat at home to Southampton on Saturday, though it was more than warranted after a calamitously poor performance. The hosts failed to create a single goalscoring chance in the entire match, and were punished by Saints debutant Charlie Austin deep in the second half.
The game's first half was described by at least one noted journalist as a "classic" Louis van Gaal performance. But while it was scarcely more interesting than the usual football served up by the Dutchman, it was conspicuous by the absence of any discernible pattern of play. In contrast to what we'd expect from a "classic" van Gaal display, United didn't enjoy a monopoly on possession; instead, both teams allowed their opponents to wander freely into their half of the pitch, wherein attacks would invariably culminate in a scrappy tackle or a wayward shot.
By the time the halftime whistle blew, the only shot on target had come from Daley Blind, whose wildly ambitious long-range strike flew into the arms of Fraser Forster. The best chance of the game was Southampton's, though Sadio Mané whiffed a thin air after being sent through on goal by a Shane Long chip, much to the relief of the home crowd. The game certainly wasn't gripping, but it was somehow surreal in its directionlessness; in a way, oddly similar to two impassive facing off in a pre-season friendly. Which is still probably better than watching United pass between themselves for the entire half.
Happily, the hapless Marouane Fellaini was hauled off for Juan Mata at halftime, though the subsequent improvement was depressingly minimal. Before long Southampton were in the ascendancy for the first time in the match, and Victor Wanyama headed a corner narrowly wide of David de Gea's near post. At the other end, United offered absolutely nothing, and it's rather telling Sky Sports' most impassioned match update came when a mouse was spotted on the Old Trafford pitch, presumably attracted by the deathly quiet of the crowd.
However, the awkward silence was eventually broken by the away supporters, who were rewarded for their long journey north by witnessing Charlie Austin netting on his debut with just two minutes of normal time left. A free-kick was swung into the area by James Ward-Prowse, and headed beyond de Gea by an inexplicably unmarked Austin. United had no response, and succumbed to the most tedious of defeats. How much more damage does van Gaal have to do?