United lose and van Gaal has to live with his choices
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 63)
MAN UNITED 0
January can't come quickly enough.
For Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, it must now feel like the finishing line.
Like an exhausted marathon runner left way behind the leading pack, he will grit his teeth and pray for the pain to be over.
Until then, he will have to live with the choices he made, and the consequences.
In a horrendous outing at the Etihad Stadium, the Red Devils lost 0-1 to Manchester City for their fourth consecutive league derby defeat yesterday.
City striker Sergio Aguero's winning goal in the 63rd minute got somewhat lost in the drama.
In a match littered with some of the world's best attacking talents, defender Chris Smalling stole the show, but for the wrong reason.
Having already picked up a needless first yellow card near the half-hour mark for impeding Joe Hart as he took a goal-kick, he then went in recklessly on James Milner six minutes later.
The inevitable red came out of the referee's pocket.
Ten against 11 on City's turf, United didn't stand a chance.
This defeat, and the manner in which it came about, heaps even more pressure on van Gaal.
The pre-season departures of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra had left a worrisome void at the back, and yet the Dutchman was adamant that he had a squad good enough to cope.
It should be clear by now that his faith was misguided.
Until the transfer window reopens in January, he must continue to work with a group of defenders either too injury-prone or not yet ready for top-flight action.
This sure doesn't sound like a brilliant plan for a charge back into the top four.
But it didn't just rain in the red half of Manchester yesterday, it poured.
Smalling's dismissal triggered an automatic suspension, which leaves an already stretched defence looking even more vulnerable.
And when Marcos Rojo was stretchered off the field clutching his shoulder in the 56th minute, van Gaal must be thinking the whole world is against him.
United ploughed through the remainder of the game with midfielder Michael Carrick and youngster Patrick McNair in the heart of the backline.
If defenders Jonny Evans and Phil Jones don't return from their injuries soon, it will give the term "makeshift defence" a whole new meaning.
No United fan will be relishing their next game against Crystal Palace.
United lack depth and quality to cope with a nightmare of this proportion.
City have problems of their own, but at least manager Manuel Pellegrini still had decent options against United.
He left out the out-of-sorts Eliaquim Mangala and put in the more dependable Martin Demichelis in the middle of their backline.
To solve their weakness on the left, he deployed the industrious midfielder James Milner on the left wing to help out the vulnerable left back Gael Clichy with his duties.
These are simple luxuries that van Gaal can only look on with envy.
United will take heart from their late rally which saw them nearly steal an unlikely draw against their bitter rivals.
But they count for nothing in the end, don't they?
What United are staring straight at is their worst start to a Premiership campaign, and yes, worse than even David Moyes' reign.
Who would have thought this was possible on the first day of the season?
"We have very good players, so I don't cry for the injuries. It's a pity, but it's not an excuse. When (Michael)Carrick came in and Paddy (McNair), we did fantastic. We can do it, but we have to score."
- Van Gaal on the injury crisis
"We had at least one and a half penalties. For Yaya Toure, it was a penalty and a sending-off (for Rojo) but we continued to play with trust that we we would score."
- City manager Manuel Pellegrini