Van Persie's absence is proving costly and with no early return Moyes faces pressure to buy well in the January transfer window
• Manchester United to go back in for Bilbao's Ander Herrera
Both David Moyes and Ryan Giggs bemoaned the wasted chances following Wednesday evening's 1-0 defeat to Everton. The one man even more clinical than the 10-goal Wayne Rooney is Robin van Persie. The Dutchman has managed eight strikes so far in a season limited to 13 Manchester United appearances due to the toe and groin injuries that have already impacted on the champions' hopes of defending their title. Van Persie last played in the 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford on 10 November. The 30-year-old scored the winner that day to lift United to fifth and a manageable five points from the leaders. In his absence since, United have failed to win. There have been a pair of draws, at Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur, plus the reverse to Everton: forget trying to compete for a 21st crown, two points from nine is hardly Champions League qualification form.
On Wednesday, after his old club had beaten his new one, Moyes said: "We had some chances and, if we took them, then the game could have changed dramatically. We didn't take them and in the end we lost the game. There were a couple of big moments for us to score, one or two opportunities. Everton were always a threat on the break, they broke very quickly against us but I always felt we could just about nick it. But in the end, we didn't do so."
The sooner the Scot can again name Van Persie in the starting XI the better the side's chances of edging any close match. However the prognosis does not sound good: "I don't know [when Robin will return]," Moyes said. "We've been trying to get him back for a few weeks. But he is not ready yet. It's his groin. It's a sore groin injury and nothing desperately serious."
There is still serious head scratching among the United congregation regarding precisely why the Belgian has been bought. For those in the sceptic camp the charges against Fellaini consist of the "can't-pass, can't-create, can't-read-the-game" nature that are damning for a player who is supposed to be a central midfielder. Those less harsh believe that given the time to settle some require at United the 26-year-old can be the hard-tackling, controlling force in the centre of the park the club has required for some seasons.
Fellaini (as well as Moyes) believes his best position is alongside Michael Carrick yet he has struggled there since making his full league debut in the 4-1 hammering Manchester City handed United in September.
Moyes has spoken of having to throw him in earlier than he wished due to injuries but this only shines a light on the paucity of midfield options and the failure in the last transfer window (see below) to recruit properly for the department.
The word is that the Fellaini is playing in discomfort that hampers his movement due to the wrist injury that requires surgery some time over the next three weeks. For a £27.5m signing this is far from the ideal scenario but given Michael Carrick's absence due to an achilles problem Moyes may have to continue to ask Fellaini to soldier on.
The fallout from the blundering in the close season has come home to roost painfully for everyone connected with the club. Moyes had the chance to sign Thiago Alcântara, who is four years younger than Fellaini, a bespoke central operator, and who would have cost up to £10m less. While that deal is now dead after Alcântara moved from Barcelona to Bayern Munich, the dithering has to stop in January. What has become clear in this opening part of the season is why Moyes wants Everton's Leighton Baines: the left-back carries an attacking threat - from open and dead-ball play - that Patrice Evra does not. The manager remains keen on the Liverpudlian who turns 29 next week yet can he be signed in the winter window? Roberto Martínez says no, with the Everton boss reiterating the club's summer stance last week. If Baines is to be prised from Goodison Park then the cost may well be north of £20m, but given Everton's determination not to sell plus the general difficultly of buying in January the deal appears difficult. Beyond Baines, Moyes continues to need at least one more midfielder, so might he return to Athletic Bilbao for Ander Herrera? If so, then, again, United need no repeat of the dilly-dallying that saw the deal fall down on the final day of the previous window when Moyes and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, refused to pay the ¤36m (£30m) buyout clause for the 24-year-old.
To wake to a Premier League table that shows United in ninth place, as many points - 12 - after 15 games from the leaders, Arsenal, as from Fulham in the third relegation spot asks serious questions of United.
Now, Moyes and his squad need to forget the campaign so far, remember why they are the champions, and go on one of those irresistible runs that has helped claim the club so much silverware.
As, post-Everton, Ryan Giggs said: "We cannot feel sorry for ourselves for too long. We need to get on a run, before this we were on a 12-game unbeaten run. We have to get over this disappointment now. We'll get a better idea in the New Year, and hopefully we can start picking up points again."
This was always going to be a season of transition following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Failure to secure participation in next term's European Cup, though, was not on the agenda of the club or its owners.
While United had a difficult start that included Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in their opening five games a case can be made for Moyes falling back on pragmatism rather than a searing desire to live or die by seizing the day. A fine 4-1 win at Swansea City in the Scot's league bow as manager was followed by the 0-0 draw with Chelsea in front of the United crowd. Where comparisons between Ferguson and (the man he anointed) Moyes seem to end is that the former Old Trafford manager was a gambler by nature. In that goalless result with José Mourinho's side Moyes left Shinji Kagawa on the bench despite him being, along with Van Persie and Rooney, a one-off of a talent whose brightest asset is to slide in on defences at unorthodox angles while unlocking them to create for others. At Old Trafford on a Monday evening under the lights with Chelsea before him, the picture forms easily of Ferguson throwing Kagawa on after informing the Japanese he is about to be the game-winner. Another question is posed by Adnan Januzaj not starting against Everton, with Antonio Valencia being picked instead. At 18 the forward's match time has to be managed but if he was fit enough to come on after 58 minutes, as he did, might he have started? And, when, Januzaj did enter it was for Kagawa, rather than Valencia, a more belts-and-braces footballer.