A day that started with Manchester United announcing a significant victory for David Moyes as Adnan Januzaj committed to a new five-year deal, ended with the manager again looking woefully out of his depth. Southampton thoroughly deserved their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and should arguably have taken all three points after dominating the champions for large spells before and after Robin van Persie's opening goal.
Southampton are riding the crest of a wave as they enjoy an excellent start to the season, but United should be deeply concerned by the speed at which their unbeatable aura is evaporating. Clearly the champions possess enough quality to beat a team who finished 13 places below them in the Premier League last year, but they were slow in possession and again looked devoid of ideas in the final third. A repeat of the defeat by West Bromwich Albion would not have been a surprise.
Not a great deal can be said of Moyes' team selection on Saturday - with Januzaj again repaying the manager's faith with a wonderful pass in the build-up to Van Persie's opener - but there is plenty of room for criticism in the way he responded to the Saints' fight-back. Courage could have killed off the visitors, but instead Moyes chose the cowardly option to try and shore-up a 1-0 lead at home to a team who have averaged just a goal a game this season. The complaints Liverpool fans held against Roy Hodgson now seem to apply at Old Trafford.
Moyes' judgement in the big job has thus far been clouded by fear, beginning with his over-reliance on Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in United's shaky start to the campaign and continuing against Southampton with three crushingly negative substitutions that predictably spurred Saints to find an equaliser. Replacing Nani, who was having one of his better days, with Ryan Giggs exhibited weakness; bringing on Danny Welbeck for Marouane Fellaini was absurd; and to sub Wayne Rooney for Chris Smalling in the dying stages was needless.
The effect of these changes saw United retreat under renewed Southampton pressure as the atmosphere inside Old Trafford swung from expectation of a routine victory to the sudden fright at further dropped points. Such negativity may have been shrewd at Everton to hold on to a result in the last half-hour but by now Moyes should know that it is United's nature to look for the jugular. His substitutions shackled the beast, and even as Saints opened up in search of an equaliser, the champions still could not pick them off on the counter-attack.
One wonders what Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez and Wilfried Zaha made of Moyes' reluctance to put the game beyond Southampton as the trio's absence from match action continued. Van Persie must also have been frustrated as he was forced to drop deeper and deeper as the service dried up in the second half, while Rooney will rue that final eight minutes he spent on the bench as Smalling was required to join the quest for a late winning goal.
Perhaps, under Sir Alex Ferguson, United would have snatched a crucial strike at the death to save themselves from the embarrassment of winning only three of their first eight fixtures. But Moyes is rapidly imbuing a lack of belief at Old Trafford, vaporizing the drive and desire that the champions demonstrated so readily as they romped to the title last season.
While Ferguson's final United side possessed plenty of faults, at least they had heart and hunger. Moyes' team, on the other hand, is so depressingly ordinary. The players are neither performing for the manager, nor has he shown that he can get the best out of a group with far more quality than which he is used to. You can have the fastest racing car in Formula 1, but it will still drive like a Skoda if you put the wrong man behind the wheel.
A version of this article first appeared on Football365