Former Manchester United striker Michael Owen claims Juan Mata and Robin van Persie are not working hard enough and must do more for the team.
The retired England international, who had spells with Liverpool and Real Madrid, also revealed he is not Mata’s “biggest fan” during a damning rant against his former employers.
As well as criticising Mata’s lack of influence, Owen also believes Van Persie is a player in decline and that Louis van Gaal is under-performing after succeeding David Moyes at Old Trafford last summer.
Manchester United should be top - Owen
“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 £150 million 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.”
Strikers and midfielders must do more - Owen
But rather than putting the blame solely on the defence and Van Gaal’s favoured 3-5-2 formation - as some have - Owen feels the team’s midfielders and strikers aren’t doing enough to help the Red Devils during matches.
“I don’t think any of the strikers are performing,” Owen continued. “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.”
Mata and Van Persie blasted
Owen then decided to concentrate on Mata and Van Persie, who he feels are letting their teammates down, but reserved special praise for arguably the biggest surprise at Old Trafford this season: Ashley Young.
“The likes of Mata and Van Persie need to start doing more,” the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner added. “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.”
Mata struggling this month
December was Mata’s best month since arriving from Chelsea in a £37.1 million deal 12 months ago. The Spain international scored two Premier League goals, contributed two assists and was arguably the best player on the pitch during the 0-0 draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane just after Christmas.
But the diminutive playmaker has struggled again in recent weeks and was subbed off by Van Gaal after just 45 minutes of United’s 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Van Persie in decline
Van Persie, meanwhile, has looked a shadow of the player who inspired Manchester United to their 20th league title over the past 18 months - even though the Dutch striker has eight goals from 17 appearances so far this term.
But despite his lacklustre performances, Van Persie’s place is not under too much threat, with Radamel Falcao failing to shine since joining the Red Devils on a season-long loan from AS Monaco at the start of September.
Manchester United fans: is Michael Owen right? Are Van Gaal, Van Persie and Mata under performing? Have your say in the comments below.