Never has a game better summed up the current state of Manchester United than their 1-1 home draw with Everton on Tuesday which likely puts paid to their final hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four. And just when his players turned to Jose Mourinho for answers, all he seemed to have for them was more questions.
By the end even Mourinho would probably be unable to tell you quite what formation they were playing, and that was the perfect reflection of the haphazard, directionless state of this side right now. That they were bailed out by an injury-time penalty for handball after substitute left-back Luke Shaw's rare right-foot pot-shot said a lot about United's kamikaze evening.
The Portuguese is a man who has been praised far and wide in the past for his tactical nous, but here his side looked little better than a Sunday League outfit as they hustled and bustled and made random runs, sent in ill-thought-out crosses and played with no sense of purpose.
And whereas he ripped into his attackers for their lack of form against West Brom on Saturday, they would have every right to return that ire in bucket-loads as they were again left out to dry by their boss’ complete failure to provide direction.
If it took the fans a good few minutes to work out what formation United were playing at the start of the second half it was because the players themselves didn’t seem to have a clue. Ashley Young started at right centre-back then was switched to the left as a third centre-half-cum-wing back. Jesse Lingard began on the right only to then move to the left and take counsel from Mourinho on what exactly he was being asked to do.
It was as chaotic as United’s general approach to the task of attacking an Everton side who on Saturday at Anfield showed just how ragged they can look on occasion at the back. A side full of players with unquestionable instincts for flair play were showing a basic mistrust of those very instincts.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was set free in space in the first half he was seen hesitating and looking for options when normally he would just drive towards goal. Marcus Rashford was too often found rocking on his heels when there were opportunities to get in front of his marker to reach the ball first.
As soon as Phil Jagielka had scrambled in Everton’s goal, United played without order, without structure. Their play demonstrated sheer desperation and little else. Even before Mourinho decided at half-time to play Guess the Formation, United were making a pig’s ear of taking the game to the Toffees.
Too quickly they were playing panic football, with balls being pumped in to the box from deep crossing positions even before the half-time whistle was imminent.
Ibrahimovic and Marouane Fellaini ending as a pseudo-strikeforce was as much effect as causation as United showed no appetite for breaking through by any other means than the trusty old long ball which has become an increasing feature of United's play under Mourinho this season. As time went on the only thing that changed was the increasingly erratic nature of every ill-judged cross and route one ball into a congested Everton box.
The draw on Tuesday takes their unbeaten league run to 20 games, but that is not much to shout about. In that time they have won 10 games and drawn the same number. In total this season, United have drawn nine of their 16 home league games - only once have they've drawn more at this stage of the campaign in their history.
And United fans who pride themselves on their team playing football the right way should be embarrassed, not just by another poor home result, but more so by Mourinho's abysmal style of play that should not be associated with such a great club.