Louis van Gaal's tactics and selection have got those writing about Manchester United reaching for a thesaurus to look up synonyms for boring after their latest listless performance in a 1-0 loss to Southampton on Saturday.
Doing so is enlightening.
Dull, humdrum, lifeless, monotonous, mundane, stale, stodgy, tame, tedious and tiresome. Each of these has a slightly different emphasis and each represents a different step on the spectrum of boredom that Van Gaal's United covers.
By all meaningful yardsticks Van Gaal is failing. Results. Entertainment. Recruitment. Development. Whenever he gets momentum it disappears.— Jonathan Northcroft (@JNorthcroft) January 23, 2016
Watching them has a dulling effect on the senses. They certainly lack for life when trying to work an opening. The repetition is both humdrum and monotonous.
The attacking attempts are often mundane, lacking in invention as the players look stale. The speed of passing is stodgy, the lack of intensity makes the team feel tame, the overall effect is both tedious and thoroughly tiresome.
Their manager was in understandably downbeat mood after the defeat to Southampton, and though injuries played their part in a remarkably poor performance for his side he can have no real excuses for his team's utter failure on Saturday afternoon. It was as dispiriting as it was utterly predictable.
Speaking to the BBC after the game, Van Gaal said of the crowd's vitriolic response at the final whistle, "They are right to boo. I cannot deny that, I saw the match."
Television viewers were left in no doubt of the crowd's feelings, wherein cutaways to supporters meant even the most amateur lip-readers could get the gist of the anger in the stands—and to whom it was directed. The brief appearance of a mouse on the pitch was legitimately one of the game's most entertaining moments.
Statistician Michael Caley's Expected Goals model—a model which uses the position and type of chances to attempt to statistically calculate the underlying effectiveness of a team's attack, a detailed breakdown of which can be found on SB Nation—calculated that United's chances were worth a likely outcome of 0.2 goals.
What that means is, playing the way they did against Southampton, United would have had to play five full games before being statistically expected to score.
The statistical model bears out the subjective experience of watching the match—it was quite simply terrible.
After the Liverpool game, I wrote that Marouane Fellaini's presence in United's midfield has consistently led to a lack of control over games. With a crushing inevitability, the same thing happened in the first half against Southampton. United had a pass completion percentage of just 74 per cent in the first 45 minutes, and had 54.4 per cent of possession—a low number for a team built to control games.
Memphis Depay, Adnan Januzaj, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata—all creative and improvisational players—were left on the substitutes' bench as the game kicked off, each one could have added to United's ability to create chances.
There was a brief improvement at the start of the second half, when Fellaini was replaced by Mata, but the injury to Matteo Darmian—playing on the right of a back three—took the wind out of United's sails.
Manchester United. pic.twitter.com/AHJ0zU0VDW— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) January 23, 2016
The decision to switch to a back three seemed a bafflingly regressive step—Southampton played with one up front, and their attack surely did not warrant special treatment.
Playing in that formation meant Jesse Lingard was forced into an unfamiliar wing-back role and Darmian was forced to play in central defence. Simply playing the XI players on the pitch in more natural positions could certainly have yielded better results.
However, what happened instead was further evidence that Van Gaal is spectacularly failing at United.
While they had been undefeated in four games before this, not one of those performances had been convincing—and they included home ties with a League One side and a team battling against Premier League relegation.
The win at Anfield was sweet for United fans because wins there always are, but not because of the quality of the performance.
There are no signs of significant improvement, no signs of real life in the side. It remains a chore to watch them, even when they do manage to win. In what was supposed to be a season of improvement, even Champions League qualification looks entirely uncertain.
Van Gaal's tactics, selection and squad building are all failing, he can have no excuses as the crowd turn on him and his team, and as his team fails in its task. The sooner he is replaced, the better for all concerned.
Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.