Defeat in the FA Cup has heaped the pressure onto Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
A goal from Danny Welbeck – a player he chose to move on – dispatched the Red Devils and condemned them to a second successive season without silverware.
The former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has improved the dismal league form shown under David Moyes though, enough to put the club in the mix for a return to the Champion’s League.
With the Old Trafford outfit currently in the precious fourth position, only narrowly ahead of Liverpool, many in Manchester believe improvement has been much too slow.
This painful progress is all the more difficult to stomach given the resources spent so far on shaking up his inherited squad.
It looks likely that van Gaal will be given time and further investment. With new signings therefore imminent, here are THREE current stars that should be looking for an Old Trafford exit…
It’s been a tough few of years for the Spanish international midfielder. Go back a couple of seasons and he was, without doubt, one of the exceptional creative forces in the Premier League.
Mata is sheer class in terms of his technique, vision and link-up play but a ruthless Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea and the schemer fell victim to his rebuilding mission.
Shipped to United for a hefty £37 million, his arrival was then heralded as the necessary spark to ignite the lethargy Old Trafford was enduring under Moyes.
As the side struggled though, so did Mata and he must surely have viewed the prospect of van Gaal with optimism. Nearly a year on, things are only slightly better.
The 26-year-old has improved his form and made important contributions but his place is far from assured thanks to the coach’s seemingly endless search for a suitable formation.
At times United have deployed three strikers which has limited the space for more attacking midfielders.
In the midfield itself Angel Di Maria and one of either Daley Blind or Michael Carrick will always be included. Then there is Wayne Rooney, who will start ahead of the former Chelsea man, regardless of how far up or down the field he is required.
Mata needs to find a new club where he can become the fulcrum of the attack, to shine at his brightest and reclaim his place in the Spanish national side.
Perhaps a surprising choice, the Dutch ace is in just as much need of a move as rival forward Radamel Falcao.
While the Colombian will need to head for pastures new due to his own lack of performance, van Persie might just need a transfer to make the best of his final few years in the game.
The former Arsenal hitman joined United in order to win silverware and was immediately rewarded, lifting his first Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson.
After a difficult time under Moyes last term, he, like Mata, must have been excited by the arrival of compatriot van Gaal.
Last summer’s World Cup with the Netherlands pointed to van Gaal’s ability to get the best from the forward. This season though, the boss has been hard on his own strikeforce and it seems he will be keen to invest in a shiny new goal-getter.
Van Gaal has shown loyalty to his countryman in the past but van Persie, 32 in the summer, may need to leave in order to guarantee game time next season.
In all likelihood the young keeper will be named as United’s player of the season for the second successive year.
This deserved accolade, while a symbol of his stunning progress, is a worrying sign of the times for United.
Van Gaal probably owes the stopper his job due to a plethora of match-winning performances throughout the campaign.
The issue now facing De Gea is that his improvement has been so noticeable it now pushes him into the discussion about who might be the world’s best goalkeeper. Any pretenders to that throne, need to be playing in the world’s best club
United missed out on the Champions League last term and are far from secure in their chase for it under their current leadership.
Real Madrid however, will always be challenging for Europe’s biggest prize. With the curtain starting to come down on the career of their long-term stopper Iker Casillas, it looks like the stars might be aligned for De Gea to succeed him at both club and country.