Wednesday night's display at Southampton was a poor one from United. The sloppiness and lethargic nature of the performance, especially in the second half, will give United fans many concerns as we head into the crucial stage of the season. But, despite what was a worrying performance, let's not panic just yet.
The problem this season for United has been that we have lost our identity – a set way of playing. The same could be said of City or Chelsea. But if you look lower down the league, you see teams who play a certain way and have a clear strategy. Swansea, for example, like to play their passing game at a quick tempo, Arsenal are the same while Spurs use their wide players to great use. The difference is that United, City and Chelsea have better players and more quality – just look at how Robin van Persie or Juan Mata have made the difference time and time again. The problem with that, though, is that it creates a mess. United don't have any obvious way of playing this season and that's why you get performances like we saw on Wednesday.
In the past, Sir Alex Ferguson has used width to great advantage with skillful, pacey wide players – such as Nani, Valencia, Giggs – creating havoc. Look at the stats over the last few seasons – in 2011/12, Valencia had 13 assists in the league, more than any other player at United, the same goes for Nani the year before (14) and Giggs the year before that (9). This season, the assists have very much been shared with Rooney leading the way on 7, RvP on 6, Evra 5 and Valencia 4.
The difference this year is that SAF has attempted to implement the diamond, partly due to the arrival of Kagawa and the emergence of Cleverley and partly due to how out of form or injured our wingers have been. It has had mixed results. The performance and win against Newcastle saw the benfits of the diamond – with Carrick dropping deep to protect the defence while Cleverley and Kagawa brought guile and energy in midfield and Rooney played in his best position behind the hard-working Welbeck and the brilliant Robin van Persie. But it's not always easy to change the way the team plays, it takes time to bring in – especially when that team are in a transiation phase like United currently are. While SAF has an extremely strong squad, players are still bedding in. For example, Kagawa is still very much finding his feet, Cleverley is still developing while Smalling, Jones, Welbeck and Powell are all still growing and learning.
Eventually, though, United will find their identity. The young players will gain that crucial experience needed, our wingers will inevitable find some form and players like Kagawa will, at some point, fully settle in and have maximum affect in our best XI. Once that happens, we'll start to compete with the best in Europe once again.