Under-fire Manchester United manager David Moyes has risked fresh controversy by suggesting his celebrated predecessor Alex Ferguson would have struggled with the squad he left his fellow Scot.
Moyes was hailed as the 'Chosen One' for being the hand-picked successor to Ferguson, who retired as British football's most successful manager at the end of last season.
But with essentially the same group of players that won the Premier League last season, Moyes has overseen a sharp decline in the fortunes of the English giants.
Such has been United's slump -- they are 18 points behind leaders Chelsea and 12 adrift of the top four -- one angry fans' group has threatened to hire a plane towing the message "Chosen wrong, Moyes out" over Old Trafford during Saturday's match at home to Aston Villa.
But former Everton manager Moyes has suggested whoever was in charge of United this season would have had difficulties given the first-team squad contains several players aged over 30, including central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, left-back Patrice Evra, midfielders Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, and striker Robin van Persie.
"People are aware there is a squad that is a bit more ageing, so I think it would have been a tough season for whoever was in charge of Manchester United this year," Moyes said in interviews published in Saturday's editions of British national newspapers.
"And I actually think if Sir Alex was here this year it would be difficult for Sir Alex as well and I'm sure he would be aware of it.
"It could have been the case no matter what this season, but it has been so un-Man United, which is why we have to look to continue a policy of building, improving, getting better and that's what we'll try and do," added Moyes, who joined United on a six-year contract.
United can now only reach a maximum total of 72 points this season, which would be their lowest in the Premier League.
And if they finish in their current position of seventh place they will match Blackburn Rovers in 1995 as the worst-performing defending champions of the Premier League era.
Seventh position would also mean they'd miss out on European football next season, unless United win the ongoing Champions League, where they face in-form holders Bayern Munich in a quarter-final first leg tie at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The latest of six home league defeats this season, against great rivals Liverpool and in midweek against Manchester City, both by a crushing 3-0 margin, have led to open rebellion among some United supporters. (Also read: Liverpool F.C. eye title but Rodgers is calm)
Apart from the planned fly-past, a fans' poll in the Manchester Evening News showed 73 percent of voters want to remove the "Chosen One" banner draped over the Stretford End of Old Trafford.
However Moyes, speaking at a press conference on Friday, said: "Everywhere I go I get great support from Manchester United supporters...I've seen different from what people are saying.
"But I understand the results are what matter. It's a results-driven business and I'm keen to get the results and move up the table."