Arsenal legend Alan Smith has delivered a damning indictment of Manchester United's current malaise and cautioned the club's current vulnerability could prove terminal in the defence of their Premier League title.
The former Gunner-turned-Sky Sports pundit believes Manchester United's insipid performance at St James' Park on Wednesday, coupled with the unexpected loss against Blackburn at Old Trafford three days earlier, attests to deeper problems within the current United side.
Smith highlighted Manchester United's below standard midfield as one of the root causes of the current side's dip in form but he also pointed to the club's ongoing injury-problems and a perceived lack of attacking options as issues Sir Alex Ferguson needs to address before the title run-in.
And Smith cautioned the club not to fall back on the lazy excuse of blaming injuries for the club's current malaise. Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher are both long-term absentees for United, but Smith believes the club should have the quality in reserve to compensate for the injured pair.
"In Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, Alan Pardew could call on tremendous power, tireless legs and a creative edge - qualities in short supply at Old Trafford these days.
"It's not as if you can blame injuries either. The central pairing used at the Sports Direct Arena of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs is one Sir Alex Ferguson might pick anyway when everyone is fit.
"It was, after all, the combination that helped steer the side through to last season's Champions League final."
Ferguson has faced calls to buy in the January transfer window to bolster the club's midfield and reinforce their attacking threat. However, the likelihood of the United manager dipping into the turbulent mid-winter market appears slim, particularly with the inherent difficulties of attracting the quality of player he would require.
Indeed, the Manchester United manager moved to downplay the significance of back-to-back league defeats earlier this week and, taken within the context of a tumultuous Premier League season, it is hard to disagree with the Scot's assessment of recent results as merely aberrations within a hard-fought campaign.
And results in December add credence to Ferguson's bullishness. Prior to last Saturday's 3-2 defeat against Blackburn, United had kept pace with City with a series of devastating displays that had many praising Ferguson's management of such a 'thread-bare' side.
Seventeen goals were scored in five matches, while the defence conceded just once, as United racked up back-to-back 5-0 victories to maintain the pressure on their noisy neighbours.
Nevertheless, Ferguson would likely agree with Smith's assessment that Wayne Rooney's current mind-set is of particular concern. Although the England international's spectacular goal against Fulham last month indicates the striker's form is nothing to worry about, recent indiscretions - such as turning up for training over Christmas after a night out in Manchester - will raise questions as to his satisfaction with life at Old Trafford.
"[Rooney] looked out of sorts on Wednesday night in failing to find his normal touch," Smith added. "And at times like that, you need someone else to step forward and fill the gap.
"Unfortunately for United, Dimitar Berbatov couldn't manage it and neither could Danny Welbeck nor Javier Hernandez. Chicarito, in fact, hasn't quite been able to reproduce the scintillating stuff he memorably managed in his debut campaign.
"Like Rooney, you can't class him as an out-and-out disappointment but Ferguson might want a bit more from now until May."