Fading United need complete rebuilding job
THE dramatic loss of form that has seen Manchester United exit the Champions League -- and all but fall out of the title race -- highlights the need for a major injection of cash and quality at Old Trafford.
United's results over the past week and a half have not just come about because of the injury-enforced absence of Wayne Rooney.
I have warned all season that United would struggle for goals and inspiration without Rooney, but their problems run deeper than an over-reliance on one player and that was drummed home by their performance while failing to beat Blackburn yesterday.
Even with Rooney in their team, the alarm bells have been ringing long enough this season to suggest that United might well have hit the wall anyway.
For the past 20 years, whenever you have watched United chase a victory at this stage of the season, it has always been a case of when rather than if they would score the goal to win the game.
It never looked like happening at Blackburn, though. United's best player was Gary Neville and it says it all when your best player in a game when the opponents barely attack is your right-back.
All of a sudden, United are beginning to look short in the critical games, but when your midfielders are 36 and 35 years old, it is inevitable that it will catch up with you.
If Alex Ferguson had just one problem in his team, he could spend £30m on one player to resolve it. But when the problems run right through the team, it is a different story and rebuilding United from here is going to be tremendously difficult.
Defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have suffered from injuries this season, while Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are unable to produce the performances of their younger days on a regular basis.
Up front, where United once had four strikers, they now have two in Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, but Berbatov is not scoring goals at the moment.
Ferguson does not have the options in reserve that he once had and there is no young Giggs or Scholes coming through to threaten the older players.
Breaking a team up and starting again is the hardest thing for any manager to do, but the next rebuild will be the hardest of the lot because we don't know if the money is there for Ferguson to do it.
There are now parallels at United with what happened at Liverpool at the start of the 1990s.
The team that won the title in 1990 needed to be broken up but, having been unbelievably lucky in the transfer market for 25 years, they suddenly became unlucky, and you could say that Liverpool have never recovered.
Twenty years on, Liverpool have still not won the Premier League and, while I am not saying that what will happen with United, this is undoubtedly a crucial time for them in terms of reshaping their squad.
I thought United faced a difficult future in 2006, but Ferguson turned them around and won three league titles on the bounce and a Champions League. However, they had a young Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo back then. Now, they don't have that quality emerging.
Their chances of winning the league this season are now bleak, but the only saving grace for United is that Chelsea have always faltered when they have been in front. Yet you just can't see United taking advantage of any possible Chelsea slip by winning their remaining four games.
Chelsea have still to go to Spurs and Liverpool and they could drop points in both of those games, but I'm not sure that United can go to Manchester City and win on Saturday.
Had Jose Mourinho been in charge of Chelsea, they would have had the title wrapped up six weeks ago. But until the medal is around your neck, you haven't won anything and that is the one thing that United and Arsenal will be holding on to.