In the week that Louis van Gaal began talks over a return to football with the Dutch national team, Manchester United were given the sharpest reminder yet that his legacy lives on at Old Trafford as West Bromwich Albion took a 0-0 draw from Old Trafford on Saturday.
Danny Blind’s sacking as Netherlands coach on Sunday has prompted the Dutch FA to approach the man who managed United for two of the least memorable years in their history about taking a role in the national setup he left in 2014.
And, while Jose Mourinho might have found a million different explanations for his United side being so toothless at home this season, Saturday’s game showed that he has yet to trump Van Gaal in finding a way to break teams down with this group of players.
The first half offered so little of note that it feels like a betrayal of the English language to even mention it in writing. Zero shots on target from either side only scratches the surface of an explanation as to how tedious some of the football on display was.
With West Brom camping so many men behind the ball it felt at times like they had more than 11 players on the pitch, United did little to prove they had the dynamism to draw their opponents out and forge space in the final third.
Despite having the explosive options of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard on the field from the start, Mourinho’s side just couldn’t find a way to unleash them in their natural habitat. Open field was always going to be hard to come by given that Tony Pulis had sent his side out with the clear intent to give absolutely no quarter to their hosts, but United need to have more urgency and purpose in their play to counter such teams.
United fans who complain about teams coming to Old Trafford simply to play spoilers have either forgotten or ignored the fact that for two decades they made a habit of smashing sides who tried exactly that. Top sides find a way of coping with that, and this United side simply hasn’t done so.
Of their 15 home league games this season, they have won only six and now drawn eight. That is simply not good enough and the football at times is hugely reminiscent of the utter tosh served up by Van Gaal, except the aimless passing is slightly quicker than it was last year.
If there is a stat floating around regarding the percentage of passes played in front of the back four, you can guarantee United will be leading the category by a country mile. They never stretch teams, they never enforce their will on opponents, and on afternoons like this one they get exactly what they deserve as a result.
They may have been missing their two big-ticket items of the 2016 summer market in Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but there have been enough afternoons like this in their presence to suggest the issue runs deeper than the odd injury or suspension.
Mourinho made just one substitution in a bid to change the game, and that was to bring on the immobile Wayne Rooney to send in the type of crosses that had made no inroads from the boot of any other player in the preceding hour against a reinforced West Brom defence.
It really was an afternoon to forget, and there remain too many of them even with Van Gaal long gone from Old Trafford.