Louis van Gaal admits Manchester United have fallen behind Chelsea and Manchester City this season because they have lacked a prolific goalscorer.
Van Gaal conceded on Friday that he is involved in a "rat race" with four other Barclays Premier League teams for the final two Champions League spots.
While United, Arsenal, Southampton, Tottenham and Liverpool scrap for third and fourth, Chelsea and City have pulled clear.
One of the reasons why Chelsea and City are a cut above United is because they have both have consistent marksmen in Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, who top the Premier League scoring charts with 17 goals each.
United have netted just 10 more goals than the combined efforts of Costa and Aguero thanks to a poor showing from Robin van Persie (10), Wayne Rooney (nine) and worst of all, Radamel Falcao, who has scored just four league goals since his costly deadline-day move from Monaco.
"It is true because I cannot deny it," the United manager said when asked if the lack of a prolific scorer had hindered his team this year.
"Robin van Persie cannot deny it, Falcao cannot deny it and Rooney - but he is not playing there so much any more.
"But we cannot deny that at this moment we don't have a striker who scores 20 goals in the season."
A lack of goals from his frontmen does not mean Van Gaal is certain to sign a new striker in the summer, though.
The Dutchman has faith in 19-year-old James Wilson and also has other priorities - like signing a dynamic, world-class midfielder.
"This doesn't tell anything about next year," Van Gaal said regarding the future of his strike-force.
"They can be having an unlucky year and I have to take account with these aspects and I have to decide, with my staff, if it is these aspects or other aspects."
Van Gaal has been forced to rethink the make-up of his front line after Van Persie was ruled out for at least two weeks with an ankle injury he suffered in last Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Swansea.
''I don't think it's very heavy but an ankle problem takes a long time. It's not one week or two weeks but we have to wait and see,'' Van Gaal said of his compatriot's injury.
Van Gaal is considering starting Rooney behind Falcao and Wilson for Saturday's home game against Sunderland.
He is unlikely to turn to Angel di Maria to solve his striking problems.
Van Gaal deployed Di Maria up front last month, but the experiment backfired.
Di Maria scored a stunning goal against Leicester three weeks into his United career, but has struggled ever since.
The £59.7million signing is sure he will start to shine again soon, though.
''I've had a couple of games where things haven't gone as well as they could have,'' the British record signing told MUTV.
''I think it's part of that settling-in process to the English game.
''I started off quite well but I think that then made expectations rise and everyone thought I would just carry on in the same way.
''But sometimes you have these ups and downs. It took me a while to settle fully in each of the countries where I've played before.
"I just have to keep working hard and focusing on what I want, which is to do as well as I possibly can.''
Van Gaal admits Di Maria and his team-mates have struggled to adapt to his much-publicised "philosophy", which involves footballers playing with their heads rather than their hearts.
"I think not only Di Maria, I think all the players (have)," Van Gaal said.
"Because my belief, and also the belief of the board, is when you do things with your conscience then it shall be better.
"He needs to go through that process and at the end he shall be much better.
"He needs to do also things with his brain and that is a learning process, not only with Di Maria but with all the players."
Van Gaal cannot bear the thought of failing to make the top four this year.
''[It would be a] big disappointment [not to qualify for the Champions League],'' said Van Gaal, who won the competition League with Ajax 20 years ago.
The Dutchman holds little hope of bridging the 13-point gap between United and Chelsea either.
"It is not that I think we shall be champions this year - you know that," he said. "But it is still mathematically possible."