Such a mess at Man Utd, so much rebuilding required
MK DONS 4
(Will Grigg 25, 63, Benik Afobe 70, 84)
MAN UNITED 0
You would say that this is rock bottom, were it not for the fact that a trip to Burnley beckons this Saturday.
Manchester United's supporters know better than to announce that things can't get any worse.
The simple truth is that this could get worse before it gets better.
For all the excitement, for all the enthusiasm, for all the hope that Louis van Gaal's appointment brought, the reality has been a sharp decline in performances, even from the low standards set by David Moyes' side.
Van Gaal has insisted that this is all normal, that a team cannot be built in a month.
From the way he spoke after the humiliation of Milton Keynes Dons, you'd think that United had just been edged out of the Champions League by Real Madrid.
He has his reasons. He cannot be seen to lose his cool and it is imperative that he manages expectations. But even he wouldn't have expected a start this poor.
There are a number of factors at work. For van Gaal's part, the decision to use a 3-5-2 variant formation with fewer than three senior centre backs now looks reckless.
Perhaps it would have been better to look for stability with 4-4-2 and then slowly prepare for the shift when the appropriate players had been recruited. But then, that's the benefit of hindsight.
The main reason for the formation was that it is one of the few that allows Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata to all play in their natural positions.
Vice-chairman Ed Woodward must carry the lion's share of the blame. It is a scandal that United have been allowed to start the season in this shape.
Injuries are one thing, but they do not explain the lack of central defenders. They do not explain the lack of dynamic central midfielders.
Woodward knew back at the turn of the year that Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were going to leave. Why weren't they replaced?
Structurally, there are problems that stretch back to Sir Alex Ferguson's day.
One of Moyes' key complaints was that there was no modern scouting system at the club.
At Everton, Moyes' staff had shortlists of numerous players for every position, for every eventuality, for every age level. At United, it wasn't the same.
And what of the fabled youth system?
Van Gaal gave the best of the academy a chance to shine and they were annihilated by a third division team after a gutless performance that was littered with individual errors.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE THE GOAL
So where do they go from here?
There's no question as to where the dividing line runs between success and failure this season.
It is the same now as it was in those heady days when a run of pre-season friendly victories convinced some United supporters that they would challenge for the title. The line is between fourth and fifth place. Manchester United have to be in the Champions League.
If they can't get their snout back in Uefa's cash trough this summer, the gap between them and the top four will widen even further.
Liverpool are a perfect test case.
Another huge, storied club who were convinced of their own invincibility. Another club who discovered how damaging one poor season could be.
Liverpool, drained by the ruinous regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillet, couldn't afford to spend their way out of trouble. They tried to get back in with signings like Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky.
Before long, their appeal to new players had faded. They were no longer Liverpool, the European giants. They were Liverpool, the fallen giants. They couldn't attract players like Angel di Maria.
They had to buy from the second shelf. But a combination of Rodgers' management and astute recruitment served them well.
United must learn from Liverpool. They must adjust to van Gaal's system and that will inevitably mean a period of costly individual errors.
They must recruit wisely, accepting that di Maria may be the last of the top-drawer acquisitions. And then they must work. The whole club must work together to get out of this mess.
It will not be easy.
- Burnley 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1
- Gillingham 0 Newcastle United 1
- Leicester 0 Shrewsbury Town 1
- Millwall 0 Southampton 2
- Swansea 1 Rotherham United 0
- Walsall 0 Crystal Palace 3
- West Bromwich Albion 1 Oxford United 1
* WBA win 7-6 on penalties
- West Ham 1 Sheffield United 1
* Sheffield United win 5-4 on penalties