In one of the worst performances of the post-Ferguson era, Manchester United were hammered 4-0 by Everton at Goodison park on Sunday afternoon.
The result leaves United outsiders in the race for a top-four Premier League finish and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer questioning the futures of many of his players.
The loss means the Red Devils have now been defeated in six of their last eight fixtures, with the shine well and truly off Solsjaer’s nascent Old Trafford reign.
Here are the five things we learned from the game.
Outgoings as important as incomings
There has been plenty of speculation about which players United will target in the summer, with Solskajer expected to be backed with a sizeable transfer budget in an effort to bring United’s squad up to standard.
But it is equally important that several current United players are shipped out at the end of the season, clearly below the level required and with their dire performances dragging the squad down.
Some, such as Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, will likely be retained because their talent and potential is such that there will be a desire to give them every chance to succeed. Others, like Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez, are on thinner ice.
Solskjaer’s tactics shown up
There is no question that Solskjaer is being let down by his players of late. The recent downturn in results has showcased just how far behind the Premier League’s best United are in terms of squad depth and world-class quality in the starting XI.
But that does not mean the manager should get a free pass for his questionable tactics and team selection through this current run of unacceptable results.
Solskjaer showed his tactical acumen in counter-attacking wins as Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain earlier in his tenure, each time exhibiting a slightly different tactical plan to outwit his opposite number.
But his efforts to repeat the trick, to rehash set-ups that worked previously against completely different opponents, is backfiring. And, moreover, his decision to move Marcus Rashford out wide to accommodate Romelu Lukaku and to play his best centre-back, Victor Lindelof, at right-back against Everton was strange and difficult to fathom.
De Gea again a worry
He was thoroughly hung out to dry by those in front of him at the weekend – especially for the fourth goal, where Everton were allowed to break upfield almost unchallenged before Theo Walcott scored – but this, again, was a game David de Gea will want to forget.
The Spanish goalkeeper has been a level below his very best for much of the season, and a recent rick against Barcelona, allowing a tame Lionel Messi effort to creep beneath him at the Nou Camp, has brought his focus and commitment into question amid reports of a contract dispute.
And the Goodison mauling will do nothing to quell such talk. Although there was little he could have done to prevent three of Everton’s goals, De Gea was painfully slow to react when Gylfi Sigurdson picked out the bottom corner from 25 yards.
Whether fitness or focus is to blame, there is a lack of effort
There have been reports in the press recently revealing that Solsjaer is disappointed in the fitness levels of his players, with the Norwegian preparing to make changes to his conditioning staff to ensure United are able to play at the intensity he demands for longer periods next term.
But, whether it is due to a lack of fitness or something more concerning, United’s players simply did not try hard enough against Everton.
Too many times the away side were too slow to close their opponents down in dangerous position, sluggish in their attacking play and in dereliction of their defensive duties.
Many have since paid lip service to the fans with online acknowledgements that their performance against Everton cannot and will not be tolerated. That’s all well and good, but they must show a desire to do much better on the pitch.
The perfect/worst time for a derby
Next up for United is the visit of Manchester City to Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Pep Guardiola’s side, despite their Champions League exit at the hands of Spurs, are on course for a domestic treble this season, and their stylish success serves to show just how far United have fallen in recent years.
A derby fixture against a rival provides the perfect opportunity for the United players to restore some pride in their season and get back on track after a poor run of results, but it also comes with the jeopardy of knowing an embarrassing loss will multiply the discontent.
*Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell