It was hard to imagine, as a Manchester United fan, that the bar could be set any lower this season after October’s 5-0 home thrashing by Liverpool.
But here we are, again.
A new nadir was reached by this team on Sunday afternoon at Manchester City, with the Premier League champions running out 4-1 winners in another embarrassing derby drubbing.
Whereas the Old Trafford mauling from Jurgen Klopp’s side prompted anger, and set the wheels in motion for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s exit as manager, this latest schooling from Pep Guardiola will inspire only resignation among the club’s support.
“Embarrassing” was how former United captain Gary Neville summed it up after the match.
Arsenal, ominously now, are a point ahead with three games in hand in the race for fourth, and United must still go to the Emirates on April 23. It would require a tremendous collapse from here for Mikel Arteta’s men not to take the final Champions League place.
Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United’s interim manager, has tried his best over the past three months, but he can’t do everything himself. These players are simply not good enough, as we are seeing week after week.
This was a gutting reality check that our “rebuild” is going to need to be rebuilt, and the squad overhauled again, despite spending well over 1 billion pounds since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, with very little to show for it in terms of silverware.
There was a total lack of effort, desire and concentration against City. When you’re playing a team with better coaches and players, and with a superior club structure, you must focus for the whole 90 minutes, but all it took was five of them for us to concede.
After a decent first half, when United pressed well for most of the 45 minutes, the players’ looked completely exhausted for the rest of the game, and stood like statues as Riyad Mahrez killed the contest on 68 minutes.
Lack of intensity
His sweetly taken volley from a corner – via a deflection from the reliably hapless Harry Maguire – came amid a 15-minute spell in the second half where City enjoyed a staggering 92 per cent of possession.
Mistakes you can forgive, but a lack of intensity and effort, and doing the simple things, is unforgivable. City were simply first to every ball, and it was embarrassing to see us downing tools against our cross-city rivals.
Seeing 7 City players charge back after losing the ball from a corner to win it back on the wing off Jesse Lingard, who put in a trademark lazy performance from the bench, said everything.
“There were five or six players there who should never play for Manchester United again,” Roy Keane said in the Sky Sports studio, before singling out Maguire. “It was shameful. It’s the old saying – men vs boys. They gave up. Shame on them.”
Fellow ex-United captain Gary Neville didn’t mince words either: “They were an absolute disgrace in those last 25 minutes.”
“The dressing room isn’t broken, but it isn’t far off. The evidence is there. You find out what it’s like when the going gets tough, and a lot of them went missing.”
The overall second half stats made for sickening reading – 21 percent possession, zero shots on and off goal, and four touches in the opposition box. Was anyone surprised? No, because we’re still clowning about with Scott McTominay and Fred in the middle of the park.
McTominay’s only valuable trait is his passion, but even that was lacking against City, while Fred watched Kevin De Bruyne run past him to score his second goal. As a midfield duo, they just don’t work. But we have known that for over 18 months. Time and again, they give goals away, and fail to pick up runners or to control the middle.
Alex Telles was shown up for his limitations at left back, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was abysmal, targeted at will by Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. The less said about Maguire, the better, while Marcus Rashford was anonymous again as a substitute.
For two years, the same players have put in consistently awful performances. They have had their chances, and are just not good enough. That needs to be recognised and accepted by the board.
For months, some fans have been saying Cristiano Ronaldo is the problem, and removing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would solve everything. Well, Ronaldo was injured on Sunday, and we looked even worse without him.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because it looks like he’ll be off in the summer along with several others whose contracts are expiring like Edinson Cavani, who turned up to watch the boxing at Manchester Arena a couple of weeks ago, but can’t be arsed to play for the club that pays him millions.
Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw – missing here after testing positive for Covid-19 – will come back into the side, but if we’re being honest, almost half of a new first team is needed. Only David De Gea, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga and Bruno Fernandes looked good enough from Sunday’s line-up.
The grim reality is that noises are already being made that only 80 million pounds will be made available for transfer activity this summer, and that’s in the unlikely case of securing Champions League football for next season.
Could Erik Ten Hag make a difference with such a small budget? And would he really be mad enough to leave a brilliant set-up at Ajax to come to this circus? Rangnick is a great coach, but even he can’t get these players to play well.
Same old spin
The “new” figures on the Manchester United board – Richard Arnold, John Murtough, and Matt Judge – have all been at the club for years, so why should we expect them to change? The club will put out the same old spin, and eventually blame the manager when results turn sour, just as they did with Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal, and David Moyes.
No matter the club has made constant mistakes with its recruitment, standing still and getting left in the dust by Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, who are years ahead of us.
If you looked at the United bench at the Etihad, you saw a bunch of players who either aren’t good enough, don’t want to be there, or that we can’t get rid of because we handed them ludicrous contract extensions.
It was soul destroying seeing City toying with us, their fans cheering “Ole!” at every pass and turning their backs on the game to do the “Poznan,” because they knew we had nothing after the third goal went in.
Things are likely to get worse before they get better, and it could be a long month if we show a similar lack of passion and bottle against Spurs this weekend, and three days later in the second leg of our Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid.
But longer term, United will be stuck, mired in mediocrity for the next 3 years at least with the same players underperforming, unless they let the new manager overhaul the squad in the summer, and implement a proper long-term strategy.
But that would require Manchester United to be run like a proper football club, so don’t bet on it.
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