On Sunday, Louis van Gaal was given a tactical hiding by his former pupil Ronald Koeman as Southampton defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford.
As a result Southampton moved above United into 3rd place in the table; though a more pertinent issue arose as a consequence: just how can a side as expensively assembled by United allow a team that was disassembled in the summer to defeat them?
The answer to that lies in United's failure to secure a top class defender. All season long United have looked shaky in defence, only for David de Gea to dive across the goal like superman like his life depended on it. The same happened again against Southampton, except this time de Gea could do nothing about the goal Southampton scored.
Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Luke Shaw were signed as replacements for the legendary trio of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. In some sense van Gaal succeeded; if his aim was to get in players as good as the 30+ versions of the United legends, he has done that to a tee. However, as one suspects, if he wanted to get in replacements every bit as good as the legendary trio were in their prime, then van Gaal has failed horribly.
Aside from a good World Cup, Rojo has done little in his career to warrant a move to United. In all fairness, he is little better, if at all better than United's best central defender Phil Jones.
As for Blind, he is a player with great tactical acumen and is arguably the most versatile player in the Premier League today. Of all the signings United made in the summer, his is the most likely to be a success and have the longest stay. Having said that, he is more John O'Shea than Jaap Stam or Dennis Irwin or Roy Keane or Paul Scholes. Whatever position Blind plays, you get the feeling he is only there due to inadequacy.
Shaw is the most talented of the three defenders United brought and is the only player capable of becoming a world class player. He also appears to have the least appetite for succeeding and has been vilified by manager van Gaal for his lack of fitness at different stages of the season. As such he has been replaced wingers filling in as wing backs and full backs due to his failure to impress.
That United spent a combined £57 million on the trio is an indictment of their poor summer recruitment. To put it into context, Shaw cost double what Chelsea paid for Filipe Luis, 3x what Liverpool paid for Alberto Moreno and several times more than West Ham paid for Aaron Cresswell.
Likewise, the £16 million spent on Rojo could have been spent on Roma's Manolas or West Ham's Winston Reid several times over and the same result would have occurred.
Defence aside, United have severe issues going forward. Ander Herrera's consistent injury issues means Wayne Rooney is having to play as a makeshift playmaker - a role his has performed admirably - though United's lack of control in games suggests he is not best suited there.
Meanwhile, Robin van Persie continually looks like a player on a slow but noticeable decline. Though the biggest concern regards Radamel Falcao. Bought for big money by United, it appears the once prolific striker has failed to shake off the injury he sustained with Monaco that kept him out for half a year in 2014. Yet, Louis van Gaal's treatment of him is rather bizarre. He would have been a great asset to bring off the bench as soon as United went a goal down, but he wasn't selected for the matchday squad, his place gobbled up by 3 central defenders instead.
Earlier during the season I had praised van Gaal for reinstating pride back into United's performances and also stated they were very likely to finish in the top four. I did also state a lot of work needed to be done as United are far from the finished article and Sunday's defeat against Southampton was a prime example.
Sunday's defeat is also a prime example of the leniency afford to van Gaal compared to David Moyes. If Moyes had lost a match playing Rooney as a midfielder, Angel Di Maria as an attacker and replacing him with Marouane Fellaini to introduce long ball tactics, leaving a fit Falcao off the bench whilst failing to register a single shot on target, anarchy would have descended.
Already this season Mauricio Pochettino, Brendan Rodgers and Arsene Wenger have been under copious amounts of pressure. Considering van Gaal has only 6 points out of a possible 15 in the last 5 games, and only five points separates Liverpool in 8th from United in 4th, perhaps it is time for people to increase the pressure on van Gaal.