Manchester United drew 0-0 at home to West Ham today, and left the pitch to the sound of boos ringing around Old Trafford.
The boos were a result of the frustrating frequency with which that result has been popping up for United, as Louis Van Gaal's men have had a staggering five 0-0 results in their last 10 games.
One look at twitter will tell you, United fans are pissed off, and quoting stats that make their team look like mid-table no-hopers, while fans of opposition clubs are laughing and enjoying twisting the knife, but the reality is that Manchester United are very much in the title race, and have a defensive record that many thought wouldn't be impossible when the season started.
Yes, United are desperately struggling to score goals, having managed to score just three in their last six home games, but remember when this was the joke of choice?
SUMMARY: If Manchester United was a car. pic.twitter.com/kUZCl0xR83
— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) September 22, 2014
That was because Manchester United were seen as having no capable defenders, but a wealth of riches in attack. A year on, and now the strikers are taking the abuse, while Chris Smalling will probably be named in the team of the season if he continues the form he has shown throughout the season so far.
Louis Van Gaal has made Manchester United into one of the stingiest defences around. It wasn't too long ago that teams were coming to Old Trafford and scoring every week, and granted a strong defence is worth little if you can't score, but let's look at today's "borefest" against West Ham:
Man United 0-0 West Ham FT: Shots: 21-9 Pass accuracy: 84%-75% Chances created: 14-7 Possession: 56%-44% Zzzzzzz. pic.twitter.com/xJvcY52Rze
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 5, 2015
21 shots, 14 chances created, but only one shot on target.
That doesn't paint the picture of a team that lack creativity, or play boring, safe football. It depicts a team that are totally and utterly bereft of confidence in front of goal. The club captain and main striker, Wayne Rooney, was missing today, but his form has been so poor in front of goal this season that you would wonder if his presence would have made any impact. That's the problem.
Manchester United do not have that player who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and get the goal. It's not Wayne Rooney, for a few weeks it looked as though it may be Anthony Martial, but he's 20 and experiencing his first season in English football, so it's unfair to expect that from him already. Signings are needed, and signings are coming.
Gary Neville recently suggested that United are two big players away from comfortably winning the league, and that's pretty much on the money. What Louis Van Gaal has done is completely rebuild the foundation of this squad, from a leaky, lazy defensive team who relied on the likes of Robin Van Persie and, ironically, Wayne Rooney to deliver the goods, to a team that will probably win if they score once.
Manchester United did not play boring football against West Ham. They played with a tempo that the fans haven't seen in recent weeks, and Memphis Depay looked hungry from the bench, which is something that will be imperative if this United side are to have any success. The "gritty" players are doing their job. The likes of Michael Carrick, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chris Smalling, and Daley Blind are putting the team in a position where it can win every week, it's the flair players that aren't performing.
Louis Van Gaal seemed confused by the reaction of the fans today:
LVG: "I don't understand that they are shouting attack, attack, attack because we are the attacking team and not West Ham United."
— Paul Hirst (@hirstclass) December 5, 2015
And to be fair, he has a point. United fans have developed this knack of shouting "ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK!" when a result doesn't look like coming, but they may as well be chanting "WIN! WIN! WIN WIN WIN!".
Van Gaal's much maligned philosophy has not clicked in terms of attacking play, but defensively things are better than anyone could have imagined. Another problem is the bewildering lack of depth in attacking positions that the club has found themselves in, and the form of Chicharito in Germany appears to point to a bad error in judgement by letting the Mexican leave, but Manchester United are almost there, even with the injuries and the decisions to let young players leave on loan.
This whole argument has been written in a tone that would suggest a concluding line may involve something like "United fans will have to be patient, as success won't come this year, but good times could very well lie ahead", but here's the crazy part.. Manchester United might win the Premier League this season.
If they can hit form like they did when they rode a wave of confidence to some "proper" Manchester United performances at the back end of last season, then they will no doubt be in contention in May.
United are in a dire patch of goalscoring form at the moment, and are producing some seriously underwhelming results because of it, but in reality the team is in a far healthier position at this point in the season than it has been for some time. Van Gaal struck gold when he made a tactical shift in March of last year, but it was too late for a title challenge. If something similar; a shift of tactics, a boost in confidence for Rooney/Martial, or a clinical signing in January can have a similar effect, then a title win could well be on the cards.