Man United's Van Gaal looks lost
Louis van Gaal asked to be judged after three months so the trip to West Brom felt like a new dawn.
It was a false dawn. Manchester United's inherent weaknesses remain. If anything, the 2-2 draw amplified the Red Devils' shortcomings yesterday (Singapore time), forcing supporters to consider an uncomfortable reality.
At the moment, there is little to choose between van Gaal's United and David Moyes' United. It's hard to see what LVG is trying to achieve at the moment. Here are five reasons why.
1 No more defending this defence
No more broken records, regurgitated sound-bites and repeated stats, United's porous defence insults the heritage of such a proud club.
Of all the existing failings, this is the one that van Gaal is getting away with the most, hiding behind his reputation.
His resume serves as a bulletproof shield when it comes to his awful backline. Moyes couldn't - and didn't - get away it.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson was brought to heel when his defence wavered (he was publicly castigated after the infamous 6-3 loss at Southampton for example, along with the grey jerseys.)
But, based on recent performances, van Gaal's back four contains no positives. Phil Jones remains a utility player, with all the negative connotations that the description entails.
Marcos Rojo (above) and Rafael are yet to master the pub football basics of holding an offside line and Luke Shaw was last seen losing a header on the halfway line in the build-up to West Brom's first goal and hasn't been since.
If recent reports concerning van Gaal's steady progress were taken at face value, you'd be forgiven for thinking he was the only United manager to take charge of a transitional side.
That was Ferguson's job description every four or five years. And he usually ensured a smooth transition by hanging on to a couple of the old guard, whether it was Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.
Van Gaal has taken a sledgehammer to the back four, leaving United more brittle than Humpty Dumpty.
Right now, even the self-proclaimed king can't put them back together again.
2 Long-ball mediocrity
Michael Owen made a telling point in his post-match analysis.
Had Ferguson's United sides pumped so many balls aimlessly into the box, the irate Scotsman would've been apoplectic on the touchline, screaming at his muddled men to get the ball down and play the United way.
Moyes was lampooned for his adoration of crosses. United's pattern of play at the Hawthorns was little different.
With an irony that escaped no one, the Red Devils improved in the second half after van Gaal implemented a tactical shift.
Long balls were lumped towards the rising afro of Marouane Fellaini (above, left). Van Gaal was schooled at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but the attacking ploy was lifted directly from Moyes' Everton Playbook.
After another hopeful punt into the box found no one, the camera captured Ryan Giggs holding his head in his hands. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.
United supporters knew how he felt.
3 Too many tortoises
Against West Brom, United were utterly devoid of pace all over the pitch, with the notable exception of Angel di Maria.
Good, bad or indifferent, speed was always a hallmark of the Old Trafford show.
Ferguson wouldn't leave a transfer market without it. But United's lack of pace hinders their progress, with possession football handicapped by too many pedestrians.
Juan Mata (above, right), Ander Herrera and Daley Blind are blessed with unique, creative gifts. But all three were playing truant when pace was being handed out.
A central midfield with three speedsters belongs only in the dreams of a Hollywood scriptwriter, but a central midfield with no acceleration is the stuff of nightmares for a Premier League manager.
The explosive Stephane Sessegnon blew them apart. Within the dressing rooms of Chelsea and Manchester City, there will be much giggling.
4 Misusing players
An earlier column raised eyebrows for suggesting that a faint question mark still hung over Herrera.
How could I be so pessimistic after the likeable, industrious Spaniard (above) had already chalked his name in both the goal and assist columns?
But there remains a tendency to fade away from games. That didn't happen against West Brom. He was never present. He was more than awful. He was anonymous, which raises two concerns.
If he really was suffering from a rib injury and a protective corset hindered his movement, why was he picked?
There were suitable replacements on the bench and Fellaini achieved more in three minutes after coming on than the former Athletic Bilbao midfielder managed in the entire first half.
But if Herrera wasn't restricted by injury, then van Gaal has a bigger issue - his performance does not merit continued selection.
Moreover, van Gaal's decision to pick three, one-paced players in central midfield left Adnan Januzaj isolated and Blind over-exposed.
In the first half, West Brom ran through the gaps either side of Blind like they were re-enacting the Charge of the Light Brigade.
5 United don't deserve di Maria
One of the game's highlights came when United's vice-chairman Ed Woodward was caught on camera saying, "f****** waste of money".
The target of his abuse isn't clear, but two assumptions can be made. One, he could've been referring to half a dozen United players. And two, he certainly wasn't referring to di Maria.
Six months ago, the Argentine genius (above) was named Man-of-the-Match in a victorious Champions League Final.
Yesterday, he looked on from the left wing like a little boy lost as those high balls dropped from the heavens.
He was even tasked with delivering a few himself, which is like asking Roger Federer to hit beach balls with a meat cleaver.
Any improvised moments of impudence, subtlety and class usually came from di Maria. He was an artist among labourers. He deserves a style of play that befits his pedigree.
But then, the same could be said for Manchester United.