Louis van Gaal has dropped Morgan Schneiderlin for three significant away games this season- at PSV, Arsenal and Stoke and United have lost all of them.
At Stoke, Schneiderlin's discipline and pace was sorely missing in midfield- with three years of Premier League experience he should be a first teamer at United but yet is often treated as a newbie to English football.
Van Gaal kowtowed to United supporters by bringing Ander Herrera into the side when Schneiderlin was just as essential against Stoke's fleet-footed forwards.
Michael Carrick- 35 in May- was not sufficient cover for Chris Smalling and Phil Jones and United were looser in midfield.
The most competitive aspect of the Reds performance at the Britannia was who could perform the worst.
Jones was forlorn, Daley Blind seem confounded, Ashley Young defended like a novice and Marouane Fellaini spent more time arguing than playing.
Herrera had the nightmare after Christmas.
His passing was wretched throughout and he seemed uncertain whether to defend or attack.
The Basque was busy and showed some aggression, but United needed incision.
Van Gaal was culpable- Herrera has been United's most productive player in the No.10 role and, as he proved in Brugge, is wasted in defensive midfield.
The lethardy and timidity was reminiscent of David Moyes final days.
Too many have performed as though it is just Van Gaal's United career on the line but the brutal reality is that whoever replaces the Dutchman, a number of playing careers are on the line too.
Luck has had little to do with United's worst run in 26 years, but Van Gaal can be forgiven for lamenting his lack of options at right-back.
Ashley Young, reasonably accomplished on the left, was utterly unreliable against the elegant- but languid- Marko Arnautovic and has played in defence often enough to be more vigilant.
Young's hesitancy allowed Jamie Vardy to score past David de Gea last month and he was also obliging against Norwich striker Cameron Jerome.
He is costing United goals and, if he is to start, it should not be at right-back again.
The alternatives are not overwhelming- and that is Van Gaal's fault- however Juan Mata's rotten spell continued on the right flank at Stoke.
Almost every one of the men in black were brittle and timid, but Mata should be influencing games and he has hardly done that this season.
He is too often detached for the attack and the counter-productive 4-2-3-1 formation cannot legislate for the Spaniard's blunt performances.
At inhospitable grounds such as Stoke's, he is fodder for the hosts and Adnan Januzaj must glance smugly at United's right flank situation despite his own malaise at Borussia Dortmund.
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