The old cliché goes that winning when you’re playing badly is the sign of champions and on that basis Manchester United will be walking away with the title come May.
Monday night on paper looks like a staggeringly good win against a Southampton side who had started the season on fire and had lost just a single game all season at home before a recent dip in form.
In truth, it was far from convincing.
The fluency which you associate with Manchester United and Louis van Gaal teams was as anonymous as Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata on the night.
Meanwhile the defensive frailties that have blighted their season continued.
The loss of Chris Smalling to injury was a blow but the substitution of Paddy McNair before half-time underlined the problems that have been there all season.
If it wasn’t for Southampton’s own wastefulness in front of goal it could have been a long night: the Saints managed 15 shots but only four of these landed on target – on another day this would have been a resounding defeat.
The stats at the other end paint just as shocking a picture, Van Gaal’s men managed just three shots and the two they got on target (from Robin van Persie) ended up going in.
Though it was very much RVP to the rescue last night, his form over the last season was inconsistent and it seems unwise to rely on him.
The Southampton game was almost a microcosm of their whole season, far from convincing but getting the required result. The Arsenal and Stoke games in recent weeks also saw far from convincing performances where United emerged with the right result.
The solution is hard to fathom. There is plenty of quality in the final third but things just aren’t clicking. The forward line includes Van Persie, Rooney and Mata, who should be more than capable of managing more than three shots.
Is it a tactical problem then? Manchester United fans finally got the man that they wanted and with Michael Carrick anchoring the midfield they have the lynchpin to get the side moving.
At times though things just broke down at an alarming rate. The performances from Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were far from ideal but the blame can hardly put at their door for what went so wrong on Monday.
With so many teams dramatically underperforming, a place in the top four almost looks guaranteed by default for Manchester United.
With some fans demanding a charge on the summit though they look a long way short of that. With performances and the chaos that has surrounded the club in recent times that top four finish should be recognised as a success.
Any future title challenge will require far better displays than Monday. Despite Chelsea stumbling and City far from their scintillating best at times, United still look set to finish a distant third this season.
With injuries once again mounting the Christmas period could be vital and as long as they carry on winning there is no doubt the fans at Old Trafford will be kept happy.
However, with tough games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle to come, it really is time for the big names to step up.
Main image courtesy of Sky Sports via YouTube, with thanks.