Manchester United and Louis van Gaal's early season malaise worsened in rather incredible fashion on Tuesday evening as the Premier League side crashed out of the Capital One Cup following a 4-0 hammering at the hands of MK Dons.
Although last night's team featured ten changes from the side that drew with Sunderland in a new formation that is still being fine-tuned, the capitulation of the 20-time league champions to lesser opposition was nothing short of humiliating.
After Sunday's insipid performance at the Stadium of Light, the inclusion of some of the club's emerging talents at the expense of underperforming first-teamers seemed a logical move.
But in many ways, this was an impossible situation for those youngsters. Playing in the same side as senior squad players who have no future at the club and who are devoid of any inspiration presents a very difficult task for those young hopefuls. In such a predicament, you are unlikely to see the best of them. Last night, we saw the worst.
Those who were still battling for the club future may have had their fate sealed last night.
The Mexican international has been tipped to leave Old Trafford in search of first-team football after losing his starting place for his national team during the summer. In his efforts to convince Van Gaal he is deserving of his place, Hernandez has struggled. The striker was painfully slow in thought and execution on Tuesday, lacking the instinctive awareness that made him one of the best natural finishers in the squad once upon a time. The weakest part of his game – his link up play – appears to have deteriorated at an alarming level and if the goals have dried up too, there is simply no place for him at Old Trafford.
United's dearth of options at centre-half suggests they can ill-afford to reduce their numbers further. But if a member of the current crop is to be cut loose, Keane seems the likely candidate. The England Under-21 international was often bewildered by the simplest examples of attacking play by MK Dons and never looked at ease in a back-three. When United's backline came under further scrutiny as the night progressed he continued to wilt under the pressure. Far from a lost cause, the immediate task at hand is perhaps too big for Keane. Another loan move may beckon for the 21-year-old.
It seems inexplicable that a player of Anderson's apparent limitations can still convince his manager he is deserving of another opportunity. It is a damning indictment of the club's lack of options in midfield that the Brazilian started on Tuesday and he did little to suggest he was on anything other than borrowed time. His lack of fitness, an issue that has plagued him for the last four years of his career at United, was evident again and it enabled a League One midfield to constantly coast past him. After the hour mark, he was unnoticeable and simply did not have the wherewithal or positioning to quell the threat of MK Dons runners through the middle. With his energy levels rapidly deteriorating in the second-half, his passing was erratic at best, dismal at worst.
Louis van Gaal's comments last week suggested Shinji Kagawa will be the first victim of his overhaul of United's squad. "Kagawa did not wish to fulfil my wishes," he told the press after the 1- 1 draw with Sunderland. The Japanese international's withdrawal after 20 minutes with a minor concussion last night was certainly no fault of his own, but his manager may have already seen enough to ensure Kagawa's next chance will not come for a while.
The jury is perhaps still out on 20-year-old Powell. Since his move to Old Trafford in 2012 he has operated in advanced positions for the club's Under-21 ranks and away on loan. That was painfully obvious on Tuesday. The youngster often looked like he didn't know where he was supposed to be in midfield and struggled to retain possession under little pressure.
A willingness to try the spectacular was his only redeeming factor on a woeful night for the club, but a worrying lack of drive in his first audition in a position many have tipped him to eventually thrive in doesn't bode well. With first team opportunities likely to be a rarity for Powell as United attempt to get their season back on track, another loan move seems the sensible option. A temporary move where he is assured to operate in a position where United see him playing on a consistent basis would suit all parties.