Manchester United’s lack of goals has been the bugbear of the Old Trafford faithful this year but after Tuesday’s elimination from the Champions League it appears Louis van Gaal has got problems at both ends of the pitch.
A night of naive defensive blunders saw United lose 3-2 at Wolfsburg and finish third in Group B, consigning them to the Thursday night sideshow known as the Europa League.
However manager Louis van Gaal tries to dress it up, and he was still insisting United have improved on last season in the wake of the Wolfsburg defeat, this is not the glorious return to Europe’s elite competition the club was expecting.
Former defender Rio Ferdinand, who won the Champions League with United in 2008, did not mince his words when describing United’s latest setback as “embarrassing”.
“Listen, I was in a squad that went into the Europa League and it’s an embarrassment,” Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“You don’t want to come out of your house or walk around Manchester. You see people looking at you and thinking you’re not good enough, questioning you as an individual.”
“If you strip it back, I think this squad needs a good looking at. There’s no pace in the team, power and any great resilience at times,” he added.
“At the moment it looks like everyone is looking around at each other rather than being the man to stand up and say ‘I’m going to drag you through.'”
United returned to the Champions League after a year’s absence thanks to a fourth-place finish in the Premier League in Van Gaal’s first season in charge — the minimum expected of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.
It was expected that would be the catalyst for United to make further strides and return the swagger back to a club that has dominated English football over the past decade.
The project is in danger of stalling.
Last weekend’s 0-0 draw at home to West Ham United — their fourth goalless stalemate in their last six matches at Old Trafford, was greeted with boos from the stands.
Fourth-placed United have scored only 20 goals in 15 Premier League matches — the joint lowest tally in the top seven — and while their defence is still the meanest in Premier League and they are only three points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, goodwill towards van Gaal is in short supply.
Summer signings Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger have yet to have the desired impact, while youngsters Anthony Martial has not scored a league goal since September, although he was on target against Wolfsburg on Tuesday.
With defender Chris Smalling joining a long injury list that includes Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera, January’s transfer window could provide Van Gaal with the opportunity to strengthen.
Although former striker Michael Owen warned: “They probably will (spend millions more in the transfer window) but whether they can rely on Louis van Gaal spending them wisely is the big question,” he told BT Sport.