LONDON • Manchester United have lost something far more significant than 10 players to injury. They have lost their aura.
That is the damning verdict of Simon Francis, the Bournemouth captain, who revealed that his team took one look at the United team sheet on Saturday and felt they could win.
"We knew we could catch them cold, especially with a little bit of inexperience in their back four," he said of a young rearguard comprising Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, 18; Paddy McNair, 20; Guillermo Varela, 22; and Daley Blind, 25.
"They had some players who had not been involved in many games and we knew we could exploit that, especially with (Joshua) King and Junior (Stanislas), our form players pace-wise.
We knew we could catch them cold, especially with a little bit of inexperience in their back four... I don't think they have that aura any more - probably because of the way they're playing at the moment... It's incredible how the Premier League is panning out, everyone seems to be beating everyone.
SIMON FRANCIS, Bournemouth captain, on beating Manchester United
"I don't think they have that aura any more - probably because of the way they're playing at the moment.
"Then again, you still have to realise they could have gone top with a win. It's incredible how the Premier League is panning out, everyone seems to be beating everyone."
Louis van Gaal ought to pay heed to this analysis, not least because Francis was, of all the Bournemouth players, the one who would have been most attuned to United's aura. Francis grew up as a United fan.
As the away fans sang their famous Eric Cantona Christmas song, it was Francis, among everyone connected to Bournemouth, who would have appreciated the sentiment. And the irony. The United side that lined up at the Vitality Stadium are bereft of iconic figures.
"I was a big United fan as I grew up," said Francis, the 30-year-old defender, after the 2-1 win. "David Beckham was a hero of mine with Cantona and (Ryan) Giggs, that kind of era. Being Manchester United, they're always going to be under the spotlight and will probably come under a lot of criticism but we're just happy we got the win."
Giggs, of course, is still at the club, still sitting in the dugout trying to work out why United are stalling.
They last went five games without a win in one season in 1998 but proceeded to win the Treble that campaign. Such a turnaround is not impossible this time.
Michael Carrick, the United captain in the absence of Wayne Rooney, vowed that the club would "be giving everything to win" the Europa League but there was a hollow ring to his promise.
Losing to Bournemouth a few days after being knocked out of the group stage of the Champions League is not supposed to be on the agenda.
The irony is that, had Giggs left United and gained managerial experience elsewhere, United would be seriously considering asking him to rescue their season.
Instead, Giggs is wondering whether to show interest in the vacancy at Swansea City or to pledge his support to van Gaal.
The former Netherlands manager maintains that United can still win the title but his prediction feels far too algebraic. United are in no way storming to a title nor thrilling along the way.
"I could talk a lot, but at the end of the day it's about the results," Carrick said ahead of Saturday's home game against Norwich City.
"We need to get back, stick together and trust ourselves to do the right thing and bounce back next week."
THE TIMES, LONDON