Manchester United’s embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Brentford reiterated the arduous task facing Erik ten Hag. United are bottom of the Premier League, but they have been here before. Is it too early to judge?
Ten Hag’s hardest test just got harder
Criticising Manchester United has become a weekly occurrence. There’s no denying they have been bad for a while, but just when it seemed they could not get any worse, along came Brentford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was apparently the problem. Then it was Ralf Rangnick. Now Ten Hag is under the spotlight. The Dutchman, who is undoubtedly an excellent coach given his success with Ajax, faces his most challenging task.
Having his tactics questioned following Saturday’s humiliation won’t help, either, but there’s an interesting discussion to be had. Against a tall and physical Brentford side, his decision to drop 6ft 4in Scott McTominay and deploy Christian Eriksen in a deeper midfield role was a bold move. So too was sticking with 5ft 9in Lisandro Martinez at centre-back while 6ft 3in Raphael Varane started on the bench. Neither paid off.
Brentford may have only had four shots on target in the first half – all of which went in – but it could have easily been more. The hosts outworked, outmuscled and outclassed their opponents, but mistakes such as the ones David de Gea made for the first and second goals are something Ten Hag can do nothing about.
Brentford ran 13.8km more than United on Saturday. Ten Hag’s response? To make his players run the same distance during training the very next day. United supporters are confident he is the man to turn their side’s fortunes around, but the mess he has inherited since taking charge this summer has never been clearer.
United have lost four consecutive league matches for the first time since February 1979. They have also fallen to seven consecutive away league defeats for the first time since losing 10 on the bounce between September and December 1936.
There have been embarrassing results before – Brighton away last season under Rangnick springs to mind – but Saturday’s felt the worst of the lot.
“I’m convinced I’ll get it done – I did it everywhere,” Ten Hag told Sky Sports on Friday when asked how long he needs to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford.
But the 52-year-old has become the first manager to lose each of his first two games in charge of United since John Chapman in November 1921.
The intensity and physicality of the Premier League have given him no time to settle. It is clear he requires time to mould a team in his image. He needs more signings, though, and there’s no guarantee he’ll get them. The future of Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be an unwelcome distraction too.
The club requires “open-heart surgery”. Those were the words of Ten Hag’s predecessor Rangnick back in April. It looks like he was right.
Brentford defeat as damning as it gets?
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“For Manchester United, if you thought it couldn’t get any lower – it just has.”
“These players have proved across three different managers now that they don’t work as hard as the teams they’re playing against.
“How long have we been saying in football that hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
“That United team don’t run hard enough, they don’t run fast enough but they are absolutely drained of all confidence.
“They’re struggling badly and they have been for 12 months. They’ve not been helped and some will say they don’t deserve help – they need to help themselves.
“I get that, but I’ve been in struggling teams before. I’ve been in teams that have been suffering and they need something. That’s got to come from above.
“But Saturday was a new low. It seems Manchester United can continue to surpass their previous lows. When is the lowest low going to come?
“The reality of it is, this is really, really bad.”
Man Utd bottom but is it too early to judge?
Manchester United last began a top-flight campaign with back-to-back defeats in the Premier League’s inaugural season in 1992/93.
Thirty years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side lost 2-1 at Sheffield United on the opening day – with Brian Deane scoring the competition’s first goal – and followed that up with a 3-0 home defeat by Everton.
That left United bottom for three days from August 19 to 21, but a 1-1 home draw against Ipswich on August 22 was enough to lift them off the foot of the table and they never looked back, losing just four matches out of their remaining 39 to become the first Premier League champions. They won the title with 84 points from 42 games – 10 points clear of second-placed Aston Villa.
Three years later in 1995, an opening-day defeat by Villa on August 19 saw them sit 19th out of 20 teams for three days until Bolton slipped below them.
The loss to Villa prompted Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen to declare that “you don’t win anything with kids”, but their stay in the relegation zone was short-lived as a run of five wins followed and they ended up winning the league and FA Cup double that season.
Fast forward to August 25, 2007 when a three-match winless start – draws against Reading and Portsmouth before a 1-0 defeat in the Manchester derby – left them 19th again.
That was the catalyst for an eight-match winning run and the season ended with United as both Premier League and Champions League winners.
Is this Man Utd’s lowest moment?
Sky Sports’ Zinny Boswell:
A reminder then, perhaps, that there were bad times under Ferguson, too. Remember the 6-1 hammering by noisy neighbours Manchester City in 2011? The 6-3 defeat at Southampton just a week on from the 5-0 thrashing to Newcastle in October 1996? Or maybe the 5-0 loss to Chelsea in 1999?
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t all Fergie-time winners, trophy lifts and trebles before the legendary manager retired.
The difference? Those were blips. This is now a reality.
In the past 12 months, United have been thrashed 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford, thumped 4-1 by Watford and demolished 4-0 by Brighton. That’s forgetting the 6-1 drubbing by Tottenham at home a season prior and the 4-0 hammering by Everton in 2019.
What makes Saturday at Brentford worse than those moments? This is supposed to be the good bit.
Ten Hag is meant to be in the honeymoon phase. A ponderous transfer window has left him with his second-choice centre-back target, free-agent signing Christian Eriksen and a left-back that is yet to start. Otherwise, this is the same squad that produced United’s worst Premier League season.
There are two weeks left of the transfer window, giving United the opportunity to right their wrongs and back their manager.
The sense of hope and optimism that Ten Hag’s arrival brought is gone. Suddenly, 36 Premier games feels like an awfully long road ahead. Up next, just the small matter of Liverpool on Monday Night Football.
Watch Manchester United vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event from 6.30pm on Monday Night Football (August 22); kick-off 8pm.
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Source : Sky Sports