At a glance, yesterday's result at the Potteries was not out of the wider script in this most unpredictable of premier league seasons. Only one team won away from home on Boxing Day and, for good measure, the top two lost their games as well. It incredibly meant that despite suffering a third straight league defeat, United are technically no worse off than they were before kick-off. Unfortunately, that is as optimistic as it gets.
A closer look makes for a grim picture. The worst run of form for 54 years. The worst ever points tally at this stage in the premier league era. Everything has managed to be worse than the wretched season under David Moyes. Quite simply, it is a a credit to the patience of the Board that the manager is still in his job at this point, at least so far. At least nobody can accuse them of impatience. There is a general desire to get this to work. However, patience, no matter how great, can always run out.
On the Match
Louis van Gaal only made the one mistake yesterday; to play Fellaini ahead of Morgan Schneiderlin. Everything else, on his part, he got right. However, there seemed little will among those on pitch to turn the club's fortunes around. It was yet again all too pedestrian, so much so that Wayne Rooney managed to appear half-decent when he came on in the second half by showing some commitment to the cause.
At times, making a pass to another black shirt was too much of a task. It's difficult to assess whether the manager still has the backing of the dressing room. The players exude fighting talk and everything of that ilk on social media and interviews and yet there is hardly any fight in them on the pitch. Memphis for instance came out with a defiant interview this past week but his attitude was not for the man behind that fighting talk.
Stoke City were not exactly beyond United's means on the day but two individual errors from Memphis Depay and Ashley Young accounted for United's loss of confidence, United did improve in the second half but there was hardly a sense of urgency to retrieve the game. The casual manner in which Fellaini took and missed his sitter baffled. Not for the first time, the Belgian has looked disinterested in scoring from a few yards out.
On the Sub-Plots
For some unknown reason. Morgan Schneiderlin has sat out Bastian Schweinsteiger's suspension. Considering the singular value of the Frenchman, Louis van Gaal has let himself down with that particular omission. United's defence no longer enjoys the protection that it did earlier in the season and suddenly, we're letting in an average of a couple of goals per game.
It baffles that this obvious deficiency in the middle, has somehow been ignored by the manager. Not out of a lack of resources but as a matter of choice.
On the Bottom Line
United are now three points off a Champions League place having led the league a month ago. Even for the patient men in the boardroom, the slide can only be tolerated for so long. Chelsea at Old Trafford tomorrow has the look of a defining moment. Three straight home games next means that the mutiny among the match going fans could reach definitive scales if the club do not drastically improve.