Manchester United are in trouble. It is not hard to see why, but it is a shame that it has come to this. On Wednesday night they are eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage - the first finalist from the year before to not reach the knockout stage the following season.
United are out of Europe, although they are physically now in the Europa League mentally they will not be competing. Following the FA Cup draw last Sunday, they have been drawn away to neighbours Man City in the third round of the world's most prestigious cup competition. It now bears out that following the first weekend in January, Man United - the champions of Europe - may only be fighting on two fronts and after the hurried Christmas schedule they could be further behind the same City neighbours in the title chase, and even behind current third place Tottenham who are undefeated in 11 games, with winnable encounters before the 22nd Dec match with Chelsea.
Man United are in a bit of a tailspin, following their shooting out of the blocks in August and September which included the 8-2 home win over Arsenal; United are suffering on many fronts - they are not scoring goals, they are not dominating games, they are suffering a whole host of injuries and players are playing low on confidence due to a collective loss of form.
Starting from the back - David de Gea was signed with many worrying over his transferring to a new league and a new country; he has not disappointed being at fault for several goals including the first at Basle on Wednesday night. The keeper needs to be a leader from behind, and currently the defence are not assured of his positioning, handling and control.
Constant injuries to the back line mean a lack of continuity and consistency - both Ferdinand and Vidic suffered injuries in the first few weeks meaning an elevation for Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who faired admirably, now Vidic is out for the season suffering medial ligament damage in Switzerland. Jones will have to play the rest of the season at the back, great for his English aspirations but not the best situation for United for the remainder of the campaign.
The midfield has suffered from the retirement of Paul Scholes and the lack of play for Ryan Giggs (who was United's best player on Wednesday), yet you cannot rely on a 37 year old to lead a midfield. Tom Cleverly was doing really well yet his creativity is definitely missing from United, Michael Carrick is a good passer but lacks the creative impulse to grab a game by the scruff of the neck like a Gerrard or Scholes might. Nani has been hot and cold like he always is, Anderson is a mis-step and Ashley Young is suffering from injuries himself.
Upfront, Ferguson appeared to find a brilliant partnership between Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck until Welbeck pulled up with a hamstring in that 8-2 victory and yet Rooney has not seemed the same player since Montenegro where he was sent off following the arrest of his uncle for match fixing. Rooney has been playing with a cloud over his head since late October and is struggling to score.
United are still winning games but without that zest and dominance of past seasons, winning 1-0 away from home at Swansea and Villa. Victories but unconvincing ones do little for faith and confidence from the stands.
In some respects, I wish that United had done the impossible at Wembley in May against Barcelona and defeat one of the best teams of all time. If that had happened, Alex Ferguson might well have retired and walked out on his terms (much like Tony La Russa with baseball's St.Louis Cardinals) with his work complete. United would have been the undisputed best team in Europe, League Champions and Champions League winners (for a 3rd time) instead Ferguson is walking around looking for the perfect ending. He has put his money were his mouth is and bought in young talent (Jones, Young, de Gea) coupled with rejuvenated youngsters from loans (Cleverley, Welbeck) to try and create another famous side. This side's inexperience with European football was most abundant in the group stages as they struggled to win at home against Basle and Benfica. Maybe next season in the Champions League will be the time for them.
However, now it looks like the ambitions for the season have altered due to the dominance of City's squad, this is a squad game now in the Premier League, City's 25 is much better than United's and they are scoring at will. City will fluff their lines at some point this season, oddly they have saved their banana skins for Europe and facing Napoli. United went through this last year and went on to win the league by some distance in the end.
Ferguson has seen it all in his 25 years, but I am not sure he has ever seen a more inept and embarassing performance as that on Wednesday night. Now he must become accustomed to Thursday night, Sunday afternoon football in February and March, as will City.
Yet since the 6-1 demolition at Old Trafford, City are still moving forward wheres we are still awaiting a United response. And as the nights get longer, there will be plenty for Ferguson to mull over this winter.