Three Points: MK Dons vs. Man United
MILTON KEYNES, England -- A trio of thoughts on MK Dons' 4-0 humiliation of Manchester United in the Capital One Cup.
1. Dons destroy Red rabble
Angel Di Maria, have you realised what you are getting yourself into? This is not the Manchester United you may remember.
Louis van Gaal did promise that things would get worse before they got better. Manchester United's season has been true to his word. After the first team's fumblings against Swansea and Sunderland, their reserves were humiliated by a League One team in MK Dons, who found it ridiculously easy to pick off United. Once they had ridden out some powder-puff early threats by the visitors, they destroyed their opponents.
This United team was a collection of flotsam and jetsam to suggest that Van Gaal was not targeting the League Cup as a placebo for a lack of European football. This was a selection of ifs, buts and never-will-be players, though Will Grigg's first goal came as a result of confusion between Jonny Evans and David De Gea, two first-choice players. His second strike saw him given limitless time and space by United's excuse of a defence to cheekily chest the ball in.
When Benik Afobe scored MK's third, he simply glided through; the same was true of his second for a by-now-predictable Dons fourth.
United's players never once raised themselves to fight back into the game. Grigg's first sapped what confidence they had, and soon enough, passes were going astray and so many communication breakdowns occurring that the United player in most frequent possession was De Gea, an unwilling recipient of a series of panicked backpasses. MK pressed United hard, and a back three made up of Evans, Marnick Vermijl and Michael Keane -- the formation with which Van Gaal perversely persevered -- was ravaged.
Another vaunted star in Adnan Januzaj came on after 20 minutes for Shinji Kagawa, believed to be suffering from concussion, yet made no impression. Midfield, as ever, was United's problem. Anderson, who would be more use as club mascot Fred the Red than as a central midfielder, partnered 20-year-old Nick Powell, who struggled badly until being replaced by teenage sub James Wilson. By then, United were finished anyway.
Di Maria arrives at a club undergoing a crisis already as deep as any suffered under David Moyes. Perhaps the problem was not Moyes after all. Sir Alex Ferguson was the glue who held all together, but his retirement pulled the rug from under the club. Two hundred million pounds has been lavished since on trying to improve the squad Ferguson left; now, the pressure is Van Gaal's to cope with. Such an embarrassment reduces the time he says he needs; United are a complete and utter shambles.
2. The ordinary boys
An hour before kickoff, official news of Di Maria's signing arrived at exactly the same time that United's starting XI was announced. The names of debutants Vermijl and Saidy Janko stood out to all but the most committed of United diehards.
Belgian Vermijl was the left-side centre-back. Janko, from Switzerland, was the latest player tried out at right wing-back, while Reece James manned the other flank. Sanko lasted just 45 minutes before Andreas Pereira, another Belgian, replaced him.
Anderson, who has lost his No. 8 shirt to Juan Mata, made his first appearance of the campaign and perhaps his last ever if United actually manage to get the disappointing enigma, now wearing 28, off their books. Another conundrum in Kagawa lasted just 20 minutes but couldn't continue after a clash of heads.
In the first half, Danny Welbeck alone played like someone either playing for his future or looking for a move. His burst in the first minute saw him play a fine pass to Javier Hernandez, who promptly fell over. That Welbeck is more likely to leave than Hernandez is a curiosity; the England striker is a versatile and willing performer, while the Mexican has utterly lost the poacher's touch that made him such a valuable asset to United. A host of English clubs would like Welbeck, but Chicharito lacks serious suitors.
Powell, a player of whom much was expected when he arrived at the club at 2012 and did well for Wigan, looked totally off the pace. First he was caught dallying in midfield, then a poor attempt at a "Hollywood ball" drifted out off the pitch. He possesses a decent shot from long range which was brought into commission a couple of times, but Powell was otherwise slack in possession and slow of thinking. He was not alone in disappointing. By the end, all were guilty.
3. MK on their way
Heavy-rock-loving impresario Pete Winkelman is the mastermind behind the club in the new-ish Buckinghamshire town. In deference to the boss's musical tastes, Dons ran on to the tune of Guns N' Roses' "Welcome To The Jungle." The League One club's stadium:mk (note the voguish lack of capital letters), was filled with a record crowd of 26,968. Usual crowds average around the 6,000 mark.
Lank-haired Winkelman is highly ambitious and unbending in his vision for the club, even in the light of the flak that continues to come the club's way for how they supplanted the original Wimbledon. They are still yet to reach the second-tier division that the defunct Wimbledon were in 2003 when it was moved lock, stock and barrel 56 miles away. Dons welcomed their most famous opponents as a result of beating phoenix club AFC Wimbledon in the previous round of this competition. English football fans do not appreciate the U.S.-style franchise move, and MK's big night is unlikely to be celebrated by too many others despite it being United who were humiliated.
Karl Robinson, a proud Liverpudlian, enjoyed the greatest success of his managerial career while Grigg, only on loan from Brentford, may be Milton Keynes' first bona fide football hero. Winkelman was entitled to pump out the rock classics in celebration. This was the night his baby made an arrival.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.