Things seem to have gone from bad to worse for Manchester United in recent weeks.
First they lost 3-2 to Wolfsburg and exited the Champions League in the group stages, then they were outplayed by Premier League newcomers Bournemouth and lost 2-1.
And most recently, the Red Devils suffered an embarrassing 2-1 home defeat to Norwich City, their third straight loss.
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United have been struck by a major injury crisis, but even before that they relied far too heavily on the defence, with their lacklustre attack heavily criticised as a result.
Amidst scrutiny for his attacking philosophies, Louis van Gaal has been praised for suring up his side's weak defence, though even this doesn't appear the case anymore.
RELIANCE ON CHRIS SMALLING
Chris Smalling's meteoric rise into one of the Premier League's best centre-backs has been remarkable, so much so he's made Daley Blind look like a viable defender at times.
It was inevitable, though, that Smalling would pick up an injury at some point - it happens to every player eventually. Unfortunately for the Red Devils his time came against Wolfsburg, with the England international's teammates struggling in his absence.
Centre-back Naldo exposed United’s weaker players on set pieces, scoring the winner - his second of the game - shortly after the 20-time Premier League champions had levelled the scoring. Bournemouth followed suit with two goals from corners the following weekend.
Smalling sustained a groin injury against the German side and so missed his side's bout with the Cherries - his presence was clearly missed, especially on the aforementioned set pieces.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE, LOUIS
Whilst Van Gaal has done well to establish some solidarity in his side's defence, reinforcements are necessary if they want to contend for the top honours.
Focus has largely been on the need for a goalscorer at Old Trafford - which is also a must buy - but the defence has created a false sense of security for fans.
United needed at least one top centre-back to arrive during the summer window, but LVG decided against what was ultimately necessary.
There are several top defenders available to United, though, should they pursue a move in January: Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), John Stones (Everton), Konatantinos Manolas (Roma), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Bruno Martins Indi (Porto) and Aleksandar Dragovic (Dynamo Kiev).
Until the Red Devils can find a new centre-back to accompany Smalling they will continually fail to sustain a title bid, regardless of any improvements made going forward.
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