Manchester United analysis: Just how deep are the problems at Louis van Gaal's United?

What does the 4-0 thrashing by MK Dons tell us about United's decline?

Manchester United plummeted to a new low with a 4-0 League Cup defeat at MK Dons last night. What does the result tell us about the club’s steep and shocking decline?

Is Louis van Gaal the man to dig United out of a hole?

It would be ridiculously premature to assume that he isn’t. Van Gaal’s abysmal first three months after arriving at Bayern Munich in 2009 — with defeats in the first three league games, no settled line-up until 10 matches in and even a 3-3-3-1 system in a game against Hamburg — saw him accused of imposing too many tactical restraints and treating the players like children. By mid-autumn, sporting director, Christian Nerlinger, stated: “Win your four games before Christmas or be sacked.” Van Gaal’s side won the Bundesliga and reached the Champions League Final. Van Gaal repeatedly states that it will take two or three months for players to adjust to his unusual technical requirements.

How deep is the problem?

Vast. Because of United’s desperately shallow pool of elite players. When it looked like Roman Abramovich’s superior spending was consigning United to the shadows, during Old Trafford’s three title-less seasons from 2003 to 2006, they had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the squad, with their best days ahead of them, an emergent Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane in the ranks. They have broken the British transfer record with the £59.7million signing of Angel di Maria because they have pitifully few game-changers: 31-year-old injury prone Robin van Persie, an inconsistent Wayne  Rooney and Juan Mata.

Read more: MK Dons 4 Man Utd 0 match report
Di Maria: just what United need
Did Van Gaal drop Vidal hint?
Gary Neville on Di Maria

Manchester United can no longer call upon Rio Ferdinand Manchester United can no longer call upon Rio Ferdinand  

Who is to blame?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s bequest to the club was simply not good enough and he must take far more of the blame than is widely appreciated. He insisted that players like Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Shinji Kagawa could set the world on fire but none of them is good enough. David Moyes’s failure to reach the required standard as United manager also meant a chopping and changing of priorities, with ground work to sign Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas going out of the window because Van Gaal didn’t like them. United lost precious time. It was also catastrophic that United allowed their chief executive, David Gill, an experienced practitioner in the transfer market, to leave on the same day as Ferguson. Now they occupy a last-chance saloon: the notorious dog days of the transfer window.

Sir Alex Ferguson must take more of the blame Sir Alex Ferguson must take more of the blame  

What are the fundamental problem areas?

Defence. If Jonny Evans has had a worse night than his part in the defeat to MK Dons then it is hard to recall one. And he is the part of the defensive inheritance Van Gaal was most impressed with. The 3-4-1-2 system, with its risky high line and demands for good communication and cover, requires fine centre-backs and wing backs. United’s centre-backs have not been good enough, while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia cannot cope with the defensive demands being asked of them. The brittle midfield is not protecting them. United’s attacking assets are their strong suit but the squad lacks the midfield quality to help locate them.

Jonny Evans was at fault for the first goal against MK Dons Jonny Evans was at fault for the first goal against MK Dons  

Was last night as bad it seemed?

No. Despite all of the above, it does need to be seen in context. That kind of defeat to a League One side would have been more catastrophic had United fielded a strong side but Van Gaal sent out youngsters with six internationals who, almost to a man, look like they are destined to leave. The defensive catastrophes – with three of the four goals stemming from United sacrificing possession in their own half merely told the manager that he is wasting his time expecting the current defenders to fit into his new system. Nine injuries do provide some mitigating circumstances.

What happens next?

Van Gaal, a proud man, should analyse and learn from the mistakes he made  last night. He failed to see the significance of the League Cup as a potential lift amid the drudgery of a season barren of European football and to embrace it. Rooney and Van Persie should have been on the bench. He then embarked on a Moyeseque lack of appreciation for what United represent by declaring — in a garrulous post-match analysis — that he “wasn’t shocked” by the result. United must reinforce as best they can, with Ajax’s Daley Blind and AC Milan’s Nigel de Jong, – though he is not on the club’s target list. And beyond that, begin to create the kind of player acquisition strategy that City and Chelsea have. To bring order from this chaos inside two years will be a result.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links