Stubborn van Gaal may soon have to go, says Richard Buxton
Obsession with possession could well prove undoing
MAN UNITED 0
WEST HAM 0
Should Manchester United choose to hold Louis van Gaal to his word, then it may not be long before he walks away from Old Trafford.
Life without the Dutchman has taken on a heightened sense of inevitability at Old Trafford of late.
How long that countdown will last remains subject to conjecture, but after yet another 0-0 at home in the English Premier League yesterday, this time against what must be said were a game West Ham, the pressure grows.
He says the first hint of unrest in the dressing room will signal to him that his time is up, and it is the players, unable to arrest the stagnation under their manager's ongoing pragmatism, that now threaten to hasten van Gaal's downfall.
From the touchline to the television studio, he has found increasingly few friends during his Old Trafford reign.
It is a pattern which could soon repeat itself in the dressing room.
At a time when United would ordinarily have seized the advantage of Manchester City and Arsenal's pitfalls in the increasingly precarious title race, he continues to persevere with processes that prove he is not one to change his game plan.
Van Gaal's obsession with possession has rendered United's trademark philosophy impotent and left himself firmly under siege.
He is now a stranger in his own fiefdom.
Fire continues to be fought with tepid water; attacking changes have become secondary.
Deploying Guillermo Varela, a full-back, late in the second half was another unforced example of how the practices and priorities that became commonplace under Alex Ferguson's title-winning juggernaut have become skewed under the current regime.
"Fergie Time", synonymous with breakthrough late goals, has been replaced by simply treading water.
Winning ugly, it seems, is not even an option any more under van Gaal.
As United toiled against West Ham, Javier Hernandez recorded an 11th goal in 10 outings for Bayer Leverkusen.
Selling the "Little Pea" may well be proving highly difficult for the Dutchman to stomach, with his side struggling for legitimate fire power.
The expensive replacement, Anthony Martial, has failed to score since September; a theme that continued with a barren outing against the Hammers.
A glimpse of life without Wayne Rooney was not as promising as United might have dared to envisage.
Asked during a recent Q&A what superpower he would choose, the England captain opted, without any hint of irony, for invisibility.
Injury afforded him that opportunity to lurk in the shadows.
Be careful what you wish for.
But out of sight was not out of mind; United appeared far more shorn of confidence in the final third without their captain, who van Gaal said at the start of the season was the man to lead the line.
Speedster and wide man Jesse Lingard, another great young hope like Martial, struggled again to hit the target when chances came to him.
That he and Martial, both still at tender ages, have been forced to shoulder the burden of filling a creative void and also scoring goals.
All roads once again point to the stubbornness of the manager.
Frustrated cries of "Attack! Attack! Attack!" continue to emanate from the Stretford End.
Van Gaal can no longer continue to turn a deaf ear to those pleas.