May 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Manchester United fans are angry and confused, and rightly so

Manchester United fans are angry and confused, and rightly so

Manchester United is a confused, cursed and conflicted football club. Erik ten Hag’s team is out of form, losing confidence and ideas. Morale is low among players and staff. The results are almost as bad as the injury list.

Fans were hoping it would get better all season long. Instead, it got worse.

A team that would have been considered a failure had it not qualified for next season’s Champions League now looks in great danger of missing out on any European football, which would not be acceptable.

United ranks eighth in the English Premier League, after two league wins in 10 matches. Monday’s 4-0 defeat to Crystal Palace was the worst of a season that has been at its lowest point, even worse than United’s goal difference – three goals after 35 games, or Casemiro’s decline. Form. The Brazilian made 1.44 successful interceptions per game last season; This term, that number has shrunk to 0.84. He lost 1.86 challenges per game last season compared to 2.73 this year.

do you want more? He was sacked 0.59 times per game last season, 0.79 this, and recovered the ball 4.61 times in 2022-23 versus 2.52 in 2023-24. This is one of the reasons why you see a gap as wide as the Amazon in United’s midfield. This is the river, not the broadcasters, who will release a film next week celebrating the 1999 treble.


Casemiro was a shadow of his old self (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Being immersed in history seems much better than dealing with what lies ahead for United, at least in the short term. The last three league games will be against Arsenal and Newcastle United at Old Trafford, then Brighton away in the week before the FA Cup final against Manchester City. Ominously, as in six matches against these opponents this season in the league and cups, United have lost every game.

These are tough times at the end of a consistent season that has fallen so far below expectations that fans can’t quite believe what they’re seeing. Yet they still travelled, filling each far end with songs of support and defiance as they did on the shallow slope of the Arthur Wait Stand at Selhurst Park on Monday. They fill Old Trafford to capacity despite knowing that the teams at the bottom of the table are likely to have more possession and chances than someone finding a bag of unused lottery tickets.

Ten Hag gave a good interview and there are still a large number of fans – including myself – who want him to succeed at Old Trafford, and get a chance as part of the new structure. But it becomes more difficult when you watch his team. Few were surprised that Palace beat United for the second time this season. They were in September, but not now – not given Palace’s recent form and with Adam Wharton, a lad born 20 miles from Manchester, so impressive.

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The same was true the last time United visited London for a league match. Then, against Chelsea in March, Cole Palmer, a childhood United fan from Wythenshawe, Manchester, stole the show. They lost that too. United played seven league matches in London this season, winning one, drawing one and losing five. There are any number of horrific statistics you can apply to this season, and Selhurst doubled them on Monday.

Monday looked bleak even before the game after Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire, last month’s two best players, were injured in the build-up to the match.

But 4-0? Palace have never beaten anyone by four goals all season. This has been miserable and can’t wait for the end of the season, just as it had at Palace two years ago in Ralf Rangnick’s final game. Ten Hag was there that day, the latest highly regarded manager willing to take the leap on the Manchester United Broncos, and he impressed on his first outing last season. The second time, he is thrown and now appears to be in serious danger of falling.


Erik ten Hag at Selhurst Park stands in 2022, in Ralf Rangnick’s last match (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

IT’S TOUGH AND ROUGH The change, with INEOS taking control, has been welcomed by most fans tired of life under the Glazers and the resulting underachievement, but with it comes uncertainty. There are coaches around Ten Hag who don’t know if they’ll have a job at the end of next month when their contracts expire. They will not receive the huge sums that Ten Hag could expect.

Some non-football employees are angry that traditional benefits are being scrapped in the name of efficiencies and a better culture. This won’t get any sympathy from fans, but the ability for staff to take a partner to the FA Cup Final on a pay day was seen as a reward for the hard graft of a difficult season, often with grotesquely anti-social hours – something to show that you You proudly work for one of the greatest clubs in the world.

INEOS should also bring improvements. It wants to hire what they call “best-in-class” operators and fans are right behind that after what seemed like a second-best approach for a long time. Football will come first, and it wasn’t always the case at staff meetings when leaders would ignore the latest hits on the pitch to reassure staff that business was booming.

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Almost all senior executives have left INEOS, with one notable exception: the director. Previous United coaches have been sacked for fewer reasons despite finishing higher than where the team currently resides this season, with Ten Hag averaging 1.54 points per game, a drop from 1.97 last season.

How United’s managers compare

Manager and PPG Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4

David Moyes

1.67

nothing

nothing

nothing

Louis van Gaal

1.84

1.74

nothing

nothing

Jose Mourinho

1.82

2.13

1.53

nothing

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

1.9

1.74

1.95

1.42

Erik ten Hag

1.97

1.54

nothing

nothing

Oddly enough, the response to the recession looks different now than it did for all these managers. David Moyes had made 34 appearances a season, one fewer than Ten Hag now, when he lost his job after it was clear United would not qualify for the Champions League, the minimum requirement. With Van Gaal, everyone knew in February 2016 that he was leaving, and he left after winning the FA Cup in May of that year. Jose Mourinho himself said he deserved to lose his job, and Solskjaer’s slide could not be stopped when he felt some players had stopped performing for him.

Ten Hag is different. He wants to stay and is convinced that he will get it right. He offers serious relief amid the criticism: he entered the match at Palace with the fifth and eighth centre-backs. Jonny Evans, who has played far more football than anyone expected this season, trained for just two days after five weeks out, and was pitted against a fast, powerful and direct Palace side. Evans could have made his own excuses; Instead, he flung himself forward.

It wasn’t as if there were many basic plans: there were five players from the academy and two goalkeepers on the bench. The sound you hear is the barrel scraping week after week.

Things are different for Ten Hag for several reasons. There is a sense of weariness at the prospect of further managerial changes, and a realization that it may not be the manager’s responsibility as much as the way the club is structured. He performed well in his first season as well, winning his first title since 2017 and defeating major rivals. Those two Europa League matches against Barcelona showed a glimpse of how good his team is.

The names linked as a potential replacement hardly inspire fans, while this season there is an acceptance that it has not been easy, especially with injuries and a year-long strategic review that has led to some players approaching him and asking what is happening on the ground.

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He inherited serious problems, such as the position of Mason Greenwood, and Cristiano Ronaldo sending him mixed messages about whether he wanted to stay and drop his captain Harry Maguire. He handled every situation wisely.

He made mistakes, like any human being. The better Jadon Sancho performs for Borussia Dortmund, the more United fans will wonder why he can’t do the same in a red United shirt, and some of that is starting to reflect poorly on the manager. Ten Hag insists he gave the player as much support as possible, and some of his staff privately said he went above and beyond what would be expected from a manager in building a personal relationship with the player.

Ten Hag could be more attractive. It’s a shame he’s not because there’s a good character, with a nice streak of humor – but when do we judge him? In press conferences when he tries to get in line? After a bad match? He could hardly tell great stories in those moments.

He’s stubborn too. He has his idea of ​​how his team should play and will push for that as much as he can, but it’s difficult right now and fans are fully entitled to debate whether or not he’s right for the club. One of my good friends gave it up months ago and said he would happily bike with him to Holland. If only Ten Hag had time to come back himself… Instead, he is working to improve United amid the club’s worst injury crisis in modern times. What can any coach do?

United will end this season with their lowest points total since 1989-1990. That was the season in which the team did not win a single league game away to Luton on 18 November until away to Millwall on 10 February. This was under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. He survived and so did Ten Hag. I don’t think any specific decision was made about him, as happened with Van Gaal, Moyes or Mourinho, weeks or months before they left.

How do United get out of this?

There is no easy answer. Getting players back as soon as possible will help, with several of them set to return before the FA Cup Final. The changes INEOS is initiating should also start to make a difference, but I’ll excuse fans for being a little skeptical about the whole thing.

They’ve lived with this for more than a decade now and they’re tired of it – and of seeing opponents do it where it matters most: on the pitch.

(Top image: Alex Bantling/Getty Images)