Manchester United travel to Bournemouth on Saturday evening with a major problem to overcome; they are in the middle on an injury crisis.
The defence, arguably the only thing that sees Manchester United in a respectable position of third place going into the weekend, has been hit the hardest, and one quick look at the options in Fantasy Football pretty much sums up how bleak it looks for Louis Van Gaal:
Not exactly ideal.
When Chris Smalling pulled up with a groin injury in the latter stages of United's costly defeat in Wolfsburg, Owen Hargreaves expressed how unlucky Manchester United were with injuries at the moment from his position in the BT Sport commentary box, but as most Manchester United fans will know, this isn't just a patch of bad luck that has popped up heading into Christmas, this is every single season.
Going back to when Alex Ferguson was in charge, Manchester United have been hit with an injury crisis, and in particular a defensive injury crisis nearly every season. When does it stop becoming bad luck, and start becoming something that the club are doing wrong?
It's actually not just Manchester United that this happens to. Arsenal famously lose the majority of their midfielders every year, and Arsene Wenger is regularly criticised for not adding depth at the position knowing full well that he can't rely on the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, or Theo Walcott for a full season, but Louis Van Gaal has shown surprising naivety in terms of how light he has left his squad coming into this season.
This is how Manchester United's back four will likely look against Bournmouth:
Or a combination of the two.
Option one features a kid who even the most hardcore United fan will have heard little about before he made his debut against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, Dutch midfielder Daley Blind (who in fairness to him has been doing well at centre back), young Northern Irishman Paddy McNair, and Guillermo Varela, who has two senior appearances to his name, both of those coming in the last week.
Option two features two midfielders, a winger, and Paddy McNair.
This is unacceptable for a club of Manchester United's size, especially when you consider that this situation has happened many times before for the club.
Louis Van Gaal suffered it last season when he was forced to place far too much trust in Paddy McNair in his first season of senior football, and Tyler Blackett, who is now on loan at Celtic. Antonio Valencia was first-choice right back, and Ashley Young was forced to cover on the left, with Michael Carrick also dropping back to play in defence, so you would think a lesson would be learned. And yet, here we are.
When Manchester United's defensive options looked far more stable with the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, and Wes Brown, and later Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, this problem still occurred. Any number of those players would find themselves unavailable for selection at a given time, and Michael Carrick again was called upon.
Remember when Patrice Evra, Richie De Laet, and Michael Carrick formed a back three in a 3-0 loss to Fulham in 2009? Oh how Manchester United fans laughed.
Then of course there was the 2011 Champions League fixture, funnily enough against Wolfsburg, where United's back four looked like this:
It beggars belief that Manchester United don't have more depth at the back. The idea that players will be come unsettled if they are not starting and would be wasted on the bench just doesn't add up, because Manchester United defenders never seem to be fit at the same time.
United are also worryingly short in attacking options, and the decisions to allow Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson to leave the club on loan, as well as to sell Javier Hernandez who is back to banging in goals every week in Germany, are rightly being criticised for their baffling naivety, but just as much criticism should be given for continuing to ignore the seemingly annual Manchester United defensive crisis.
It's clear that Louis Van Gaal is gutting the Manchester United squad in order to build the foundations for the manager that succeeds him at Old Trafford, but it's clear that he, or whoever is making these decisions along with him, has been far too extreme in allowing players to leave while not replacing them. Manchester United are in a very promising position in the league, just three points off the leaders heading into what traditionally was one of their most fruitful times of the season, the Christmas period, but this latest injury crisis could have a serious impact on what can be achieved this campaign.
Injuries happen, and are impossible to predict, but how many times to you have to reach crisis point before you realise that changes need to be made?