Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be counting down the days until the international break is over and he can call on some of his key Manchester United players once again.
While it’s the forwards who are dropping like flies at the moment, with Anthony Martial the latest player to pick up an injury in the draw with AC Milan, it is in midfield where absences are being most keenly felt.
The loss of Paul Pogba continues to rob United of invention and quality in the centre of the pitch and without him United have generally looked too predictable.
And the worry for Solskjaer might be that the issues exposed over the last couple of weeks will require more than a positive fitness update. He might be picking up the phone to newly installed football director John Murtough to discuss whether the balance of this midfield is something that needs to be fixed in the transfer market, rather than on the training ground and in the medical room.
While the double pivot of Fred and Scott McTominay is ideal for a destructive derby day win against Manchester City, a combination of that duo or Nemanja Matic in games where United must offer more than a threat on the break isn’t working.
It’s clear how much United have missed Pogba since he injured his thigh in the first week of February. Without him, the midfield has been pedestrian and lacking guile.
Against Crystal Palace just over a week ago Matic and Fred failed to provide the forwards with enough quality possession and with McTominay coming in for the Brazilian against AC Milan it was a similar story.
This felt like a particularly problematic night for Matic. He is the most natural defensive midfielder in this squad but against the impressive Serie A side he was unable to stop AC Milan playing through the United midfield and getting runners at Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly.
Far too often United’s defence was forced to backpedal as Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leao or Alexis Saelamaekers ran straight at them. It looked like they were going to get away with it, until Simon Kjaer’s injury-time header gave Stefano Pioli’s side the very least they deserved.
Milan had dominated the first half and McTominay and Matic had been outplayed and outthought by Franck Kessie and Soualiho Meite. The game was more even after Amad had put United ahead, but the final quarter again belonged to Milan.
It is a particularly damning indictment of United that they ended the match with Fred, McTominay and Matic on the pitch, as well as five defenders, yet they couldn’t do anything to stop the tide of attacks coming at them.
It would be unfair to pin the blame on Matic, who wasn’t responsible for United’s poor marking at the corner or for Dean Henderson falling to keep Kjaer’s header out.
Having looked a key cog in midfield in the second half of last season, having disappeared from view in the first few months of the season, he has regressed again and his presence in the United midfield is slowing them down and failing to offer sufficient defensive insurance.
Matic has plenty of experience, which can be vital for a relatively young squad, but he turns 33 in August and while he can probably play alongside Pogba, a double pivot of Matic and Fred or McTominay simply isn’t offering enough.
Perhaps Donny van de Beek can help to solve that issue. The Dutchman may be frustrated that this team looks to be in need of a player of his gifts while he is also out injured, but then Solskjaer hasn’t shown much faith in the £35million midfielder this season.
Van de Beek will improve for a full pre-season at United and more time on the training pitch, working on the finer details of a tactical gameplan, and next season he may well be a revelation in a deeper midfield position, but at the moment that required an investment of faith.
Given this summer will be another difficult one financially after a season without matchday revenue, United will likely have other priorities than central midfield, but for now they can’t get the balance right. In the short-term, Pogba can’t return soon enough.