Sometimes, you can lose a game 4-1 because everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Today, we lost because everything that should have gone right went wrong.
Manchester City are a wealthier team than us and have a deeper squad and better players. We know this. We also know that this is even worse when we're missing Rafael and Robin van Persie. What this cannot excuse is a defeat that was plainly avoidable, happened for a reason, and one where we were fortunate not to lose by more goals.
The four Manchester City goals: the first a result of a decent cross for which Rio Ferdinand made an error. The second a result of switching off from a corner. The third and fourth were the worst, with the defence cluelessly ambling around while being taken apart - they looked like they simply didn't care.
The goals came in a ten-minute spell of chaos - it happens quite frequently, often between two mid-table sides that like to counter-attack, where the managers lose control of their teams and the game briefly becomes an end-to-end spectacle where there's nothing there except the twenty-two players. Worryingly, that was when United were at their most vulnerable, lacking the ability to go head-to-head with City in midfield and even lacking the determination to defend their own goal.
Firstly, we sat too deep. There was no attempt to press City even when they were in our half, which was baffling considering that our victory against Leverkusen, by far our best performance of the season and against a very good side too, came as a result of hounding them off the ball.
Secondly, the substitutions. Leaving Shinji Kagawa off is understandable given that he seems incapable of contributing to a game for more than one half. That, however, means he should have started the second, and making no changes and sending the team out seemingly without a gameplan proved suicidal. Tom Cleverley being the first substitute was laughable, and although the flow of City attacks was stemmed soon afterwards, it had a lot more to do with them taking their foot off the pedal.
Furthermore, the players we did have were badly misused. Marouane Fellaini was first too deep and uninvolved, and then too far forward and uninvolved, both resulting in Michael Carrick being easily pressed, which we know by now he cannot cope with whatsoever, especially in big games. Chris Smalling at right-back left us without drive and an inability to control the game as we struggled to play from deep. Wayne Rooney was too far forward to alleviate any pressure on the midfield.
United's failure is partly down to the gulf in available wealth between the two clubs. But that's a long-term problem, and that's what will be responsible for a long-term decline. Today was one game, and it happened because all the things we should've gotten right - picking the best team for the occasion, making substitutes at the right time, approaching the game with the right mentality, being well-organised, deploying our key players correctly - we got very, very wrong. We have a long run of winnable games coming up now, but after today it would be a much bigger worry were we to do worse there as well.