If Louis van Gaal needed a final nail in his coffin, defeat at Sunderland was definitely it.
The Dutchman has today given his players a day off ‘so they can spoil their women’ but after losing to the Black Cats away from home for the first time in Premier League history, the squad should be in for extra training rather than spoiling their WAGs.
Manchester United have been slowly improving in recent weeks, scoring three at home to Stoke and ending their miserable run of not scoring in the first half at Old Trafford.
But against Sam Allardyce’s side, they were back to their worst and had no answer for Sunderland’s fight and tenacity.
Van Gaal could perhaps be accused of complacency, thinking he’d solved the problems of this season by blowing away Stoke a fortnight ago and getting a draw at Stamford Bridge last time out.
Wayne Rooney was showing signs of returning to his finest form, and both Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial were scoring but the defensive problems were only lying dormant in that time.
Against Sunderland, United lacked leadership at the back and that’s what cost them.
Chris Smalling is undoubtedly talented, but lacks the organisational skills needed to marshall a defence that lacks experience and it showed against the Mackems, as the away side conceded two goals from set pieces.
Wahbi Khazri tormented United’s defence all afternoon with his wicked deliveries and van Gaal’s makeshift back four – featuring two teenage defenders who have only played 584 minutes of Premier League football between them – simply couldn’t cope.
Fair enough, van Gaal can’t help the unfortunate series of injuries his squad has suffered this season, but having spent over £250m on new players, even the most blinkered Man United fan would hope that the squad would have more depth than it does right now.
With Jose Mourinho all but confirmed to take over in the summer and send van Gaal into an early retirement, United are about to go through a transitional period that will shape their future.
Mourinho will cause rifts and unsettle plenty (sorry Juan Mata, your time’s up) but will ultimately deliver results, even if it is on a short term basis.
The days of stability under Sir Alex Ferguson are gone and United are going to have to get used to being like every other team – striving for perfection in the mire of managerial hirings and firings.
Ryan Giggs is some time away from completing his apprenticeship as a manager and if Gary Neville’s start as a coach is anything to go by, those days might not be worth looking forward to.
Mourinho must come in and make Manchester United a force to be reckoned with again because under van Gaal, the club looks a shadow of its former – once great – self.