While the deficit to the leading sides is far from unassailable, it does place new manager David Moyes and his side in a rather difficult position given the continuous success achieved for the past 20 years.
New players will undoubtedly arrive, with the Guardian's Jamie Jackson once more linking the Red Devils with a move for Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera on Thursday. However, that also means there will be players set to depart.
McDonnell also suggests that Everton left-back Leighton Baines will finally make a long-anticipated switch to Old Trafford once the window opens.
But, what of Anderson and Young? Both players arrived at the club with burgeoning reputations, but despite flashes of promise have failed to consistently hit the standards demanded by the club.
Injuries have played their part in both players' failure, with Anderson having been particularly badly hit over a number of years. Now in his seventh campaign at Old Trafford, it is not since his first season that the Gremio product has appeared in more than 20 league games, per Soccerway.
The pair, though, have had plenty of opportunities to impress.
For Anderson, 25, there is still time to turn around his career and come good on the talent that saw him named as the best player of the 2005 Under-17 World Cup and earn a move to Porto.
That now seems impossible at United, where games are far from guaranteed and the fans appear to have given up on him. With a move elsewhere and regular games, though, there is no reason why he cannot recapture some of the early spark that drew comparisons with Ronaldinho.
Young, meanwhile, is a few years older than his colleague and would appear to have little future as a first-team player at Old Trafford.
Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Adnan Januzaj all block his route to the first team, while his performances have rarely merited further opportunities. If he hopes to challenge for an England place once more, an exit is the only option.
United need to release dead wood if they are to replenish the squad and return to the upper echelons of the league. Doing so sends out a clear message as to the club's ambition, gives opportunity to younger players and also frees up money for recruitment.
Arsenal have axed a number of underperforming squad players over the past 12 months, and it is not surprising to see them performing better as a result. Andriy Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci, Gervinho and Johan Djourou were all among those shipped out, and Arsenal are a better side as a result.
Moyes must now show a ruthless streak in January, besides acting decisively in the transfer market. Spring cleaning the United squad, regardless of league performance, is one of the key tasks for the current season.
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