Michael Owen has delivered a withering assessment of Louis van Gaal’s first campaign at Manchester United by claiming his former club are ‘not functioning as a team’ and insisting Robin van Persie is no longer living up to his reputation.
Owen, who scored seventeen goals for United during a three year spell at Old Trafford between 2009 and 2012, helped the club win the Premier League title during his second season in Alex Ferguson’s squad.
But the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and England forward admits he has been underwhelmed by United’s progress under Van Gaal, whose team currently sits fourth in the Premier League following a £153m summer spending spree.
United are locked in a six-way battle for third and fourth position and, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham closing in on fourth spot and Southampton holding firm in third, Owen believes his former club are not guaranteed Champions League qualification.
“People keep saying they are going to get a top four finish and that was the aim,” Owen told BT Sport’s Football Tonight Show. “But that is the absolute bare minimum. Top four for Manchester United!
“After spending £150m and having the players they have and the stadium – they should be first, second or third. Third should be a bad season.
“How are they accepting that they are not challenging for the title having spent that money on those calibre of players? It’s not a good season.”
United have scored just 36 goals in twenty-two league games so far this season, despite attacking options including the likes of Van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ángel Di María.
And although Owen believes the forwards are falling short of their best at United, he claims the blame can apportioned to the way Van Gaal’s team is playing.
“I don’t think any of the strikers are performing,” Owen said. “Robin van Persie has gone quiet, he’s scored the odd goal, but he’s not the player he was over the past few years.
“I don’t necessarily blame the strikers as Manchester United aren’t creating loads and loads of chances.
“'They are not functioning as a team and if you don’t function as a team, and your strikers and midfielders aren’t working hard then you’ll concede goals – it’s not just about the defence.
“If you’re not playing well throughout the team, you won’t score enough goals as the strikers aren’t getting enough chances.
“The likes of Mata and Van Persie need to start doing more.
“Mata’s had a half-decent season but I wouldn’t say I’m his biggest fan.
“Ashley Young has been really good and done well when he’s played wing back, he’s unlucky not to get in the team but it’s not very balanced at the moment.”