LONDON • Where does Sunday's limp 1-0 Premier League defeat by Newcastle rank in the litany of dreadful Manchester United performances?
Not quite as bad, perhaps, as the equivalent game of the 1989-90 season, the last time the Red Devils have started a season as badly as this, when they went down 5-1 at Manchester City.
But the wretched display at St James' Park has to be up there - especially given the paucity of opposition provided by a Magpies team who were faring worse in the opening weeks of the season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's mood after the game was reasonable and sad, but also vaguely numb as though he were in shock.
There was no obvious anger and no great emotion from the United manager, just a struggling man clinging desperately to the pet phrases of his profession - belief in the tactics, perhaps a tweak before their next league game at Liverpool after the international break.
But this needs more than a tweak; this needs a revolution, not only of tactics, but of morale and self-belief, and probably personnel.
Solskjaer admitted as much that "we have given ourselves a big, big uphill task to get in the top four".
He said: "It's my responsibility. I need to sort their heads out. They're human and they want to do well... we're not getting those results so that's going to affect them.
Goals scored by Manchester United in their last 23 matches.
"Some of the boys lack a little bit of composure and we don't create enough chances to win a game of football. The first half was the sloppiest we've been."
David de Gea also told reporters he was at a loss to explain their malaise other than conceding that "it probably is the most difficult time since I've been here".
United are sleepwalking to something inconceivably bad and are showing ineptitude on an extraordinary scale.
They are both the most successful side in league history and the richest club by revenue in the top flight, so it is staggering that at this stage, they should lie just two points above the relegation zone.
Clearly, Solskjaer is not the biggest issue and this is a club suffering systemic decay and yet he is equally clearly now a problem.
The Norwegian's shortcomings are being brutally exposed - his 17 league games since beating Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 in March have yielded just 17 points.
His predecessor Jose Mourinho's last 17 games before his sacking last December brought 26.
United mustered just three shots on target against a Newcastle side that had won only one game this term and had two brothers (debutant matchwinner Matty and Sean Longstaff) with 12 league starts between them.
In Steve Bruce, the hosts had a manager with no wins in 21 previous games against United, yet the visitors were impotent.
The team's past 23 games in all competitions have brought just 19 goals, and while their summer business was to focus on youth, allowing Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to leave, young players like Daniel James are being thrown into the storm-tossed water to see if by some miracle they can swim.
For Gary Neville, though, there is no obvious "quick fix", with the pundit telling Sky Sports the club are "getting the pain they deserve for poor decisions at board level" and while the right path was to "develop a young, progressive team", their rebuild cannot happen without more "quality and experience".
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN