From a season in which Manchester United have so often struggled to find attacking solutions, there are two big questions that remain confounding.
First of all, is this the type of football that Louis van Gaal actually wants? Is he satisfied with this - a style that has brought three 0-0s in a row? All of his recent comments indicate that, and that is perhaps the greatest concern of all. This is it.
Secondly, how has he not yet dropped Wayne Rooney - or at least been moved to allow Anthony Martial play up front, as seems such an obvious move to everyone except Van Gaal?
It is baffling by this point. Even if Rooney is far from United’s only problem, he has become one of the biggest because he is generally at the end of the very few chances they create. Right now, he just doesn’t look anywhere near sharp enough to be the type of striker at the tip of such a frugal system.
A 2009-10 Rooney might make that approach work, given the way he could snap off a hard first-time shot from tight angles, rather than one who struggles to keep otherwise inviting passes in play. The laboured run to try and reach Martial’s divine through ball against Crystal Palace only followed a similar display of lethargy for a Jesse Lingard pass against Manchester City.
The most puzzling thing in all of this is that Van Gaal has repeatedly proven himself precisely the type of manager willing to ruthlessly discard senior players, to not be swayed by reputation.
Yet, right now, Rooney only seems to be in the team on reputation.
There are conflicting accounts and theories on all this from those close to the club. Many say Van Gaal keeps Rooney precisely because he doesn’t rest on his reputation. The English captain trains well and follows the manager’s instructions to the letter. That is the minimum Van Gaal demands, but it means all the more from Rooney because of his seniority.
There are others who say the manager is actually conscious of not falling out with such senior players, that he wants to avoid the problems he’s had at other clubs.
Either way, it all means other problems have been identical to those clubs.
This is what Ajax legend Sjaak Swart said about Van Gaal’s football with the Dutch side in 1995: “It’s unbelievable! But that was the system with Van Gaal. Many games you are sleeping! On television, they say ‘Ajax 70% ball possession”. So what? It’s not football. The creativity is gone.”
This is what Bayern Munich legend Paul Breitner said about Van Gaal’s football with the German side in 2010: ““In some matches, we ended up with 80% possession, but there was no real rhythm or pace. After half an hour, everyone in the Allianz Arena would be yawning at this display of constant passing. Our game was well executed but very, very predictable.”
All of this perfectly describes United right now, and the point in repeating these comments is to show that this football is a constant of Van Gaal’s career.
It’s difficult not to think this is exactly what he idealises. Van Gaal himself sometimes looks puzzled at why he would asked about the side’s failure to even create chances, as if it’s utterly blind not to see their bluntness is merely a grand coincidence, and the system will ultimately prove sensational.
And sure, when United have clicked - as in the March-April spell last season - they have been exceptional. The worry is what happens in the long periods waiting around for those temporary clicks, those spells when the players are not on top form.
Far from the blanks being coincidences, it seems like United actually creating something is entirely dependent on the opposition rather than them.
Since Van Gaal will almost always set the side up the same way, the attack is dependent on the opposition being brave or naive enough to step out against United - as Everton did in the 3-0. If they do that, then the team can suddenly look exciting, because the players at last have some space to surge into. Those breaks are basically the only time United stretch games, because Van Gaal’s football otherwise stifles it all.
The biggest indictment of all is that they so rarely look like they’re building to a goal. They just kind of happen, from errors or individual moments, rather than being a consequence of concerted attacking.
That is truly confounding.