Manchester United players are too afraid to express themselves and are going backwards under manager Louis van Gaal, according to former defender Rio Ferdinand.
Van Gaal has been criticised for his defensive style of play but the under-pressure Dutchman has showed no signs of swaying from his rigid approach despite the club’s five-match winless run.
United lost 2-1 at AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday, adding to their Champions League group-stage exit midweek.
And Ferdinand said something has to change, sooner rather than later, with United fourth in the standings, four points adrift of leaders Arsenal.
“Players are playing it safe because they are afraid of the consequences if they try to take chances,” Ferdinand told the Sun.
“Manchester United are going backwards again and I don’t see that changing because the manager will not change.
“They have to be allowed to express themselves.”
Van Gaal is under contract until 2017 but faces an uncertain future amid increasing fan frustration.
Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola and former Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti have been linked with a move to Old Trafford.
Ferdinand added: “Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti will be available this summer and the question is will they be able to do a better job than Van Gaal.
“The board and owners might want to be loyal to Van Gaal after investing so much in him but they also have to do what is best for United.
“And if United finish outside the top four, that will be catastrophic.
“It might rule out the chance of getting either Guardiola or Ancelotti.
“It will be more difficult to attract the best players, too. The next six months are absolutely crucial.”