Why is Man United's cup half empty all of a sudden?
Defeat to Southampton and the Falcao row took the wind out of Louis van Gaal's sails
Manchester United's rennaissance would appear to be built on sand if reaction to the club's damaging defeat to Southampton at the weekend is anything to go by.
After a poor start to the season manager Louis van Gaal took his side on a long unbeaten run and guided them to third in the table, almost within touching distance of Premier League pace-setters Chelsea and Manchester City.
But after the club's first defeat in 12 games United's glass is no longer half full, but very nearly empty.
Falcao may leave
An intriguing sub plot to the Southampton match was the absence of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who was not even on the bench. Afterwards Van Gaal admitted he had been left out for tactical rather than injury reasons prompting speculation that the player does not have a future at Old Trafford.
His agent Jorge Mendes, who was thought to ahave finalised a deal for a permanent switch to United, subsequently admitted: "We don't know what will happen. What we do know is that he will play in one of the very best clubs in the world next season, whether that is Manchester United or not."
Rory Smith of The Times told the paper's The Game podcast that it was hard not to think that Van Gaal did not "fancy" the striker.
It might not just be Falcao heading out of Old Trafford, says The Guardian. It claims there is now "doubt alongside several senior players whose contracts expire in 18 months". David de Gea, Robin van Persie, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva have yet to sign new deals and "there is an expectation at the club that the summer will feature another clearout by Louis van Gaal after the manager allowed 15 players to be sold or go on loan last year".
Adnan Januzaj is also set to be loaned out, while Tom Cleverley is unlikely to return at the end of the season. There have even been reports that Darren Fletcher could leave at the end of the season.
The Moyes factor
Much has been made of the fact that United have exactly the same points tally at this stage of the season as they did last term under the unfortunate David Moyes.
The analysts have also been lining up to point out that under Van Gaal, United have scored one goal fewer, played more long balls and committed more fouls. The Daily Telegraph even managed to dig up seven separate metrics to support the idea that Moyes's side was superior.
There may not be that much between the two manager's records, admits Jamie Jackson in The Guardian, but Van Gaal brings glamour to the role. "There is a belief the Dutchman is a winner who can elevate United again," he writes.
A tough end to the season
Van Gaal's success will be measured by the position his side finish in, and he will have his work cut out in the closing stages of the season. After a relatively easy run of games until mid-March, United face Spurs, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the final weeks of the season.
They may have to win several of those games to ensure Champions League football.