Manchester United might hope that Juan Mata can be the panacea for their plight, but the League Cup exit to Sunderland emphasised that theirs is a stubborn sickness. The champions are reportedly close to signing the Spaniard in a deal worth £37m, but it would not be a surprise if Wednesday night forced him to reconsider.
On this evidence it is clear that Mata would be tasked with carrying United's creative burden. A convincing approach in the final third has been missing all season - with David Moyes admitting his team lack a cutting edge following the defeat to Chelsea - and even Sunderland were spared being put to the sword. United managed only three efforts on target in the first 90 minutes, with only three sides recording fewer against the Black Cats in their 22 Premier League matches this season. Aston Villa, Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham all managed more in recent fixtures.
United may have been missing both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney for a fifth match in succession, but their first XI was still strong enough to achieve the routine 2-0 victory required to avoid extra-time. Instead, the champions allowed Sunderland to dominate the final stages and paid the price for failing to kill off the visitors by losing a hilarious penalty shoot-out that epitomised their lack of composure throughout the tie.
Moyes was typically anti-animation in his pre-match interview, rallying the troops by saying: "Our aim is to win tonight or at worst be 1-0 ahead after 90 minutes to take it to extra time." At 90 minutes it was 'job done', but supporters are used to much higher standards at Old Trafford. Sunderland deserve enormous credit for reaching the final, of course, but this result is a huge embarrassment for United and pushes them a big step closer to a trophyless season.
The result is devastating for Moyes, but he only has himself to blame for not fixing United's problems in attack. All season he has reiterated that the team are playing well and merely need to focus on the next game, but without a convincing plan, what can he realistically hope to achieve? That Sunderland averaged more possession in such a crucial match points to a lack of leadership both on the pitch and in the dug-out. United simply failed to get a handle on the occasion.
So what now for Mata? We should remember that Chelsea also lost to Sunderland in the Black Cats' brilliant cup run, but that defeat was a rare setback in a season of progress under Jose Mourinho. In contrast, it looks as though the rot is setting in at United. There have been reports that Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will all leave in the summer, while doubts remain over Rooney's future. Just what is the identity of this 'project' Mata is supposed to be joining?
Four defeats in six matches at the start of 2014 and a cup exit to the team lying 19th in the Premier League is horrendous form. United can preach stability all they want, but there will come a point when Moyes' position is untenable. Did anyone really think the season would go this badly? Of course not. Does anyone really think Moyes is the man to solve United's problems? We'll let you answer that...
Matt Stanger - follow him on Twitter.
So from the comments below, seems the ManU fans are up in arms that F365 has the temerity to write an article about them losing a game that they lost. Don't you just love them?- juddlinskatron