Manchester United threw away their only chance of silverware on Tuesday night and did so in possibly the most humiliating fashion for a club their size has done for some time.
While it is only the third game into their season, there is an argument that says being crushed 4-0 by League One MK Dons in the second round of the Capital One Cup has left the Old Trafford club with no chance of silverware.
It was a chastening experience for Louis van Gaal and it was the worst possible thing that could have happened to him following the dire 1-1 draw at Sunderland and the 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea City.
When it was announced that Van Gaal would be succeeding the sacked David Moyes, his Netherlands side’s impressive performances at the World Cup in Brazil sparked much optimism among fans of the Red Devils that last season was a nightmare to be forgotten and domination would ensue once more.
It hasn’t really worked out as such and the tactical brilliance their new manager was hailed for in Brazil has looked inflexible, disjointed and directionless so far during his time in England.
While he sent out some lesser known youngsters at Stadium:mk, Van Gaal had a number of more established stars in the line up and none of them could muster the slightest bit of danger for the opposition.
Set to be shipped out
One suspects a couple of them are headed for the exit door and the clash with the Dons was seen as an opportunity for them to entice more bids before the transfer window closes.
Whatever happens in terms of transfers, it looks as though any new arrivals will be facing a season with no hope of trophy glory and quite possibly a similar outcome to last season’s seventh place finish in the Premier League.
Van Gaal has insisted that implementing a new formation and rebuilding a squad that is in desperate need of new blood will take time, but the Premier League is not an arena for those who are trying to ease into a new season.
Time to live in the present
Results are needed now and the Dutchman needs to get pragmatic. At the moment the disarray the team are in when they take to the field means Manchester United are looking at a struggle to get into the top four and return to the Champions League next season.
If Van Gaal persists in deploying the 3-5-2 system with players that are either too unfamiliar with it or incapable of carrying out their jobs, then they can forget finishing higher than seventh.
He signed a three-year contract and has spoken of the project he is undertaking as taking that length of time to really come to fruition, but short-term gains are needed again. United must try to regain confidence if this season is to be any kind of success, but so far it appears as though they are continuing from where they left off last season.
Dutchman's future in question
There will be nothing close to three years for Van Gaal if it even looks as though there is a small chance of his side finishing outside of the top four again. Champions League riches are too great for any top club to accept to go without them for any length of time, not to mention its importance for attracting the best players around.
It is a quandary for a man that has, largely, spent a career picking players that fit in with his footballing philosophy, faced with not nearly enough players with the correct attributes to carry out that philosophy.
It's time to box clever
Pragmatism needs to be Van Gaal’s key word, for this season at least, and he must change the way the team plays to suit the attributes of the players he has at his disposal.
Rebuilding a club is no mean feat and it will take a thick skin, but that job is all the more difficult when said rebuilding is being attempted on a foundation of so much uncertainty.
Manchester United are almost certainly not going to win any silverware this season following the thrashing by MK Dons, but the threat of prolonged mid-table mediocrity should be the real fear for a club that looks like its still searching for an identity.