|United were stunned by conceding early to the Black Cats|
There's so many things that could ordinarily be faulted in a team on a matchday. You could have underestimated the quality of your opponents and hence struggle to keep up. The team could suffer from one player's mistake or a rush of blood to the head causing them to see out the game a man less. A lack of fight in the team is however one of those damning verdicts on any team's performance.
It was an indictment of Manchester United's season that Louis van Gaal bemoaned his side's failure to match the 'aggression' of Sunderland on Saturday. Indeed, the beleaguered United boss used the word 'aggression' to negatively define his side's performance more than three times in his various post match briefings.
Often times, and indeed when up against the sides in the lower echelons of the league table, English league games simply come down to who offers more fight in them. Last week, Manchester City made the trip to the Stadium of Light expecting not hopping for a simple three points. By the '90th, City had been drawn into a mud-bath battle with the relegation threatened Black Cats. Pellegrini's men rolled up their sleeves and matched the hunger in Sam Allardyce's side to preserve a 1-0 lead.
On Saturday, whilst United expected Sunderland to cling on for the point in the second half, the Black Cats came out fighting for all three points. Often times this season, Louis van Gaal's side have failed to stand up to a test when the opposition has brought the game to them. The Dutchman might boast of having reduced the average age of the side but it has come back to haunt the side in games when the club requires leaders.
|Martial & De Gea fail to keep out Sunderland's winner|
United are so brittle in confidence that at the sniff of a bit of adversity, the team crumbles. As such, the club has struggled to put up any semblance of consistency that is required to mount a challenge for the elite places in the league. Any two or three positive results are quickly followed by a damaging defeat at a time when the pessimists are being converted.
As a result, the season is in serious danger of being declared a write off. The boss and indeed his captain have already declared Champions League qualification as out of reach in February with almost a third of the season to play. Whilst a six point turnover is not impossible, United have been unable to win three straight games in the league since November. Hardly a case to make there for an end of season flourish.
The Europa League remains an available route to Europe's top table but even that would be a long shot from this position. The second tier of European football remains a difficult competition to win, certainly for English clubs. Indeed, the likes of Napoli, BVB Dortmund, and even Tottenham Hotspur appear to have a greater claim to that trophy than United on current form.
A season that promised so much is quickly turning into one in which the fans are being asked to hope for mere scraps. It is afterall, Manchester United's worst ever performance in the premier league era so far. Whilst van Gaal can mitigate with what for him is an unprecedented injury crisis, his decision to trim the squad to a handful of players effectively stops the buck at him.
It remains fascinating to see just ho low Manchester United will stoop before it gets better. Louis van Gaal appears to be enduring a long goodbye with the club. Even so, here is a man whose ego should ordinarily ensure that he retains a semblance of respect to his legacy when he is eventually gone. Except that given that it has hardly gone his way in England, it could, in all probability, get much worse for him.
Seasons come and go, and therefore fans can recover from a bad couple of seasons. Unfortunately, for Louis, this is it!