Well. That was embarrassing.
After many pundits, myself included, predicted a tight match to take place between the two league leaders, Manchester City put United to the torch and lambasted them to the tune of 6 goals to 1. Adding insult to injury was young red-carded Jonny Evans showing, once again, that his place in the first team's defense is tenuous at best.
To be fair to the Irishman, not many of United's vaunted superstars really showed up to play. Rio Ferdinand was shambolic despite being relied so heavily upon in place of the (mysteriously) absent Nemanja Vidic. David De Gea, so solid in recent games, looked shell-shocked. Anderson left his midfield partner Darren Fletcher hanging high and dry on a number of occasions.
And even Wayne Rooney, who honestly looked like the only United player who wanted to win, was ineffective.
But perhaps, as a number of other writers on Bleacher Report have indicated, this is a blessing in disguise for both the club and fans.
The early season success created an atmosphere of invincibility around the "aura" of Manchester United. In doing so, several holes were masked just waiting for a top side to expose them. And with all due respect to Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, City was the only team in the Premier League who could have driven the point home.
With the possibility of facing Barcelona down the line, still leagues ahead of City at this point, Sir Alex must now sit down and assess his squad with their deficiencies brought into so much focus.
With that in mind, here are 10 players Sir Alex must bring in. Note, I'm not advocating bringing in all of them at once. By playing around with his system and personnel, only a couple of these reinforcements would be necessary. I'm just going to illustrate possibilities based on what he could do.
Also, United needs help now. So even though the team is linked to a number of youngsters with potential, I'm limiting this list to players who can make an impact right away.
I am also trying to keep it somewhat realistic, mileage may vary, so no 100,000,000 bids for the likes of Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, and no return engagements for Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi.
Let's start with the big elephant in the room.
Long linked with a Manchester United transfer over the summer, Wesley Sneijder eventually ended up remaining at Inter Milan. I, and many others, have written that United didn't actually need to spend the big money to bring the Dutchman in.
In my case, I said that, aside from financial implications, a United offense revolving around Wayne Rooney would make Sneijder redundant. And, earlier in the season, it looked like that was indeed the case.
But the match against City, with David Silva pulling the strings for Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, showed the weakness of such a tactic against higher class teams.
The biggest problem is that when Wayne Rooney drops down from attack to help out the midfield, it leaves a gaping Wayne Rooney-sized hole up front; a hole that Danny Welbeck doesn't seem to be able to fill just yet.
The luxury that having a man of Wesley Sneijder's caliber pulling the strings from midfield permanently is that it allows Rooney to stay up front and do his damage.
I'm still not sure that Sneijder would be worth the monetary investment, which leads me to...
Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa, also long linked with a move to United, is one of the brighter spots of the Bundesliga.
He has many of the same qualities that Sneijder has: quickness, craftiness, sublime passing skill and a decent goal-scoring rate. He would also come with a much smaller price tag, although Dortmund seems determined to keep him and would inflate the transfer fee as much as they could.
That said, there is another Japanese playmaker out there on a much smaller team who may be tempted with some big, desperate United bucks...
Playing for CSKA Moscow, many people believe that Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda is being wasted. Arguably one of the top Asian players in the world, and the clear best on the Japanese national team, Honda deserves to ply his trade before as large an audience as possible, something he could easily achieve with United.
Honda and Kagawa complement each other well on the national team, in a way that I think he would complement Wayne Rooney as well. He could fill the Sneijder role at a much smaller price, and he is a few years younger.
As a side note, United's profile in star-centered Japan would explode to the Beckham-years heights, possibly filling the United coffers even more to allow an extra player purchase or two.
Winner of the Best Young Player Award and the Golden Boot Award at the latest World Cup, Thomas Muller is, at 22, one of the brightest young attacking talents on the planet right now.
I would advocate bringing him into the team for every reason people would advocate Sneijder's entrance, but also because of qualities Muller brings that Sneijder lacks in comparison. Although Muller is often deployed as a forward or attacking midfielder, he has shown that he is industrious and has the proper central midfield instincts to track back and throw himself at a tackle. And while he may not be, say, Daniele de Rossi, his tackling can't be any worse than Paul Scholes' was.
The biggest drawback would be, like Sneijder, his price tag. I just don't see Bayern Munich letting Muller leave for anything less than what Inter would take for Sneijder.
Perhaps the only other attacking midfield talent comparable to Muller in terms of potential, Mario Gotze is another young gun who could fill in for Sneijder at a tremendous cost.
With many European clubs hungering for his services, it would do Sir Alex good to snap up the 19-year-old and mold him into a United great... if Borussia Dortmund would let him go.
When French legend David Ginola calls you "probably the most talented player of his generation", you know you must be something special. And indeed, for a long time it looked like Yoann Gourcuff would actually live up to the Zinedine Zidane comparisons. But failing to impress at AC Milan led to whispers that perhaps the young man was a tad over-hyped.
Not so fast. A move to Lyon allowed Gourcuff's star to shine once again, and he is now one of the key members of the French national squad...playing in Zidane's old attacking midfield role.
For a combination of experience, potential price tag and talent, this is the man I would advocate bringing in amongst all the previous attacking midfielders I mentioned. He won't be cheap, but he'll be cheaper than Sneijder, younger and just as good.
And now for a completely different type of midfielder. One of the biggest problems United had was in containing David Silva, James Milner and (later) Samir Nasri in midfield. In United's current configuration, two world class box-to-box midfielders are needed in order to both break up the attack and launch a counter of their own.
In Darren Fletcher, Sir Alex already has a dependable box-to-box midfielder at his disposal, one who will run tirelessly up the pitch, break up attacking plays, and score the odd goal. But, if Sir Alex chooses to stay with a 4-4-2 alignment, Anderson is not good enough to run alongside the Scotsman. With Tom Cleverley still an unknown quantity due to being out injured for so long, it may be time for Sir Alex to bring in another Darren Fletcher.
Italy's Claudio Marchisio is no Darren Fletcher... he's better. Already almost a Juventus talisman, Marchisio has the skill and power to dominate a midfield. He also has just enough creativity to set up a Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Nani-led attack, while keeping an eye out for counters.
There was a time when Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were the best central defense pairing in the world. But with Vidic mysteriously absent against City and Ferdinand hopeless, it looks like that time is done.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones may well be a top defensive pairing in the making, but United needs defensive help now.
Thiago Silva, AC Milan defensive rock, may be that man. It would take a lot of money to grab him from the Italians, but the Brazilian is worth it. Also, he would be a lot cheaper to get, and his capture would be more realistic than trying to lure Gerard Pique back.
Italy has long had a reputation of producing stellar defenders. Juventus player Giorgio Chiellini is the latest in a long line of Fabio Cannavarro's and Paolo Maldini's, and his addition to the United squad, alongside Nemanja Vidic, would instantly create another fortress in the back.
Prying him away from Juventus, where he is third in line for the captaincy, would be difficult. But United's need is great, and if you're going to spend money on a defender, aim for one of the best. And again, I think his capture would be more realistic than a return for Gerard Pique.
So here's something slightly out of left field.
Manchester United are well stocked in the striker department, boasting a squad that features Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. With these men at his disposal, Sir Alex could conceivably abandon his search for an attacking midfielder, drop Wayne Rooney into the Sneijder role permanently, and deploy two strikers ahead of him.
If he were to do that, we could see a partnership of Berbatov and Hernandez or Welbeck and Hernandez blossom, but there's no guarantee it would succeed. What he would have to do is bring in another world class striker to essentially replace Rooney. That striker would then act as the Sergio Aguero to Rooney's David Silva, as it were.
Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid and Argentina is the man that springs to mind. In the 2011-2012 season, he is off to a blistering start, scoring nine goals in two weeks for club and country. And yet, in a Real Madrid side boasting Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema and Kaka, Higuain could be considered expendable.
Besides, Real still owes United for fleecing them in the Beckham and van Nistelrooy deals.
So there you have it.
A 6-1 drubbing at the hands of your closest rivals is not just humiliating, it's a wake-up call. If Sir Alex will not be satisfied with a 2nd place finish in England or a god-knows-where place in Europe, reinforcements must be sought.
If he were to pick at least any two, preferably a midfielder and defender, of the previous ten men mentioned, United will be in an infinitely better place to challenge both City and Barcelona.