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May 4, 2014

Man United's season sauntering to nowhere

The relationship between expectations and disappointment is unbreakable. While United fans perhaps expected a downturn this time last year, they cannot have been prepared for twelve league defeats with two games to go. It is woeful. At least Sunderland fans will be finishing this season in a good mood given their 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

Back in November, Sunderland were resting in 19th place. They had accumulated four points from ten games and were five points adrift of safety. They were dead and buried. Yet in his eight and a half months at the club, Gus Poyet has taken them to a cup final and, with this victory at Old Trafford, the brink of Premier League survival.

Ryan Giggs' team selection seemed to pay a lot of attention to team politics from the season as a whole rather than recent form. As a result, the five changes that were made to the starting eleven proved too many and United were disjointed and clumsy throughout.

- Okwonga: Lack of intensity dooms Utd
- Delaney: Giggs' inexperience shows
- Report: Black Cats stun United
- Highlights: Man Utd 0-1 Sunderland (U.S.)

To include Ashley Young, Nani and Javier Hernandez made sense in some respects as they haven't received many chances lately. All looked rusty though and when Adnan Januzaj and Robin van Persie took the field later in the second half, it was a great relief for those watching. Young and Nani played some nice stuff in the first half but neither enjoys the affection of the supporters. They seem to know it too.

Despite the upturn in the club's mood since the departure of David Moyes, United have nothing left to play for this season and it shows. As a new manager is expected to be announced this week, perhaps the players are keeping their powder dry before trying to impress the new man when he eventually arrives. They will need to do better than this.

On the other hand, Sunderland are in the crucial period of their season. This disparity in desire levels was understandable, but the difference in performance levels was less forgivable.

Wayne Rooney was absent because of reported stomach and groin problems, consistent with his history of acquiring innocuous injuries and ailments at convenient times of the season. It is interesting to imagine how Louis van Gaal might react to that trait when fielding Rooney next season. The England man has a right to be worried.

In fact, most of the players on the field against Sunderland should also be concerned about their futures at the club. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, for example, are great alumni but both played like old timers in a testimonial team. This was uninspiring stuff.
Giggs and Man Utd are simply playing out the string.
Ryan Giggs has only picked two football teams and made two lots of substitutions in his professional life. It would be ridiculous to read too much into the fact that he didn't get this process completely right on Saturday. The jury remains out on him and he still has a lot to learn -- nothing has changed there. Surely van Gaal is the man to guide the club moving forwards.

A seventh place finish now seems certain for United. The Dutchman would surely do better than that. When asked about Louis van Gaal today, his assistant Patrick Kluivert said, "he can make any team play better than they are. That's very important. He wins games." That is a quality Manchester United have sorely lacked this season.

Old Trafford will be hosting Hull in the last home game of the campaign on Tuesday night and with his future still unresolved, possibly Ryan Giggs's last game too. "If there is no room for me in the starting lineup or on the bench, I won't do it. Of course, the perfect scenario would be coming on and scoring."

That, among other things, is what the crowd want. It turns out the team do have something to play for: the man who is currently managing them.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne