Eric ten Haag put it in his own words: Manchester United’s 7-0 humiliation against Liverpool at Anfield was a ‘reality check’. But when the dust settles on a defeat that equals United’s biggest margin of defeat, the result could work in Ten Haag’s favour.
Much work remains to be done at Old Trafford to make United once again a contender for the biggest prizes – the Premier League and Champions League – and Sunday’s brutal dismantling of Jurgen Klopp’s side will give Ten Hag a chance to shine. It was on paper during his team’s resurgence during his short time as manager at the club.
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United’s worst ever campaign in the Premier League last season ended in sixth place with 58 points, and this promotion has lulled many fans and some at the club into a false sense of progress. United have made great strides under Ten Hag, but Liverpool showed there are still holes to fill at Old Trafford.
Few football clubs experience the same highs and lows as Manchester United. A week ago the Carabao Cup final success against Newcastle United at Wembley (Stream the replay on ESPN+ in the US) this season, United have sparked convincing talk of a top four. However, seven days later they suffered their worst defeat of last season, when Liverpool’s two wins against their former Premier League rivals resulted in a 9-0 aggregate score.
Although United could add the FA Cup and Europa League to the Carabao Cup, they were never likely to finish higher than third in the Premier League this term, despite ending a six-year trophy drought. But as much as four trophies in one season is highly anticipated, it would be ludicrous for United manager Ten Hag to pull it out and say he has to start again after the defeat at Anfield – a defeat which saw United concede six goals. the other half.
In the defeat at Liverpool, United’s need for a proven centre-forward was highlighted by a tactical error by Ten Haag, who played Marcus Rashford in the No.9 position. But the lack of alternatives is a consequence of United’s poor recruitment in recent years. Ten Hag had to compromise his side by playing Rashford in the middle, with Bruno Fernandes wide left and Vout Weghorst in the No.10 position.
Rashford has been a standout for United since the World Cup, playing mostly in his favored role on the left and rarely shining when asked to move through the middle. But until United sign a striker like Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane or Napoli’s Victor Osimhen — both players are being monitored ahead of a potential summer move, ESPN are told — Ten Hag will be forced to use square pegs in round holes up front. , because he has no one who can work as a center forward on a regular basis.
Wegorst is too slow and unmoving (one goal in 14 games for United highlights his shortcomings) and Anthony Martial’s fitness remains a recurring issue. Rashford’s recent run of 17 goals in 21 games has masked United’s lack of goal threat, but his failure to trouble Liverpool was a warning sign that Ten Hag need to find someone to share the burden.
There are also question marks over whether Fernandez and Anthony can make a difference in the biggest games for United, and those doubts have only grown with the game against Liverpool. Ten Hag pushed United hard to sign Antony from Ajax in the summer, so he will be firm with the Brazil international, but the return of his three Premier League goals and no assists so far should be a cause for concern. The £86m winger is remarkably one-footed, lacks pace and has a predictable style of cutting inside at every opportunity, so Ten Hag must find a way to make him more effective. The same goes for Fernandez. The midfielder’s tally of five goals and six assists in the league this season is respectable enough, but he rarely makes a decisive contribution against the top teams. His performance at Anfield – when out of position – did not counter the argument that he was lost against superior opposition.
Ten Haag also has a problem at right-back and has been able to handle it well this season. Neither Diogo Dalot nor Aaron Wan-Bissaka can take United to the next level, but both players have improved thanks to the work done by Ten Haag and his coaches on the training ground. Anfield revealed Dalot’s limitations against elite teams. The Portugal international is loyal and committed but lacks the pace and study required at the top level. And Wan-Bissaka has repeatedly shown that he can’t focus defensively and his possession ability gives United nothing in terms of attack.
While United were winning, the problems Ten Hag had to deal with were largely hidden. But in the most difficult situations, the truth about the team and its players emerges against teams. United have moved on and Ten Hag has rebuilt the squad, but Sunday added to the evidence that a major investment is still needed in the squad.
Despite their progress, United have yet to beat a top-six team away from home. They lost at Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. They conceded 17 goals in those three losses and each one was a reality check.
So while it may be tempting for the United hierarchy to point to the positives as justification for minor changes in the summer, Ten Hag should use Liverpool’s defeat as further evidence of the work still to be done.