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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 shape, out of confidence and out of ideas. Morale is low among players and staff. The results are almost as bad as the injury list.

Fans have been hoping all season that things would get better. Instead, it has gotten worse.

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

United are eighth in the Premier League, with two league wins in ten games. Monday’s 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace was the low point in a season of consistent lows, even worse than United’s minus-three goal difference after 35 games, or Casemiro’s decline in the Premier League. form. The Brazilian made 1.44 successful interceptions per game last season; this term, that figure has fallen to 0.84. Last season he lost 1.86 challenges per match, compared to 2.73 this year.

Do you want more? He was dispossessed 0.59 times per game last season, 0.79 times this, and won possession back 4.61 times in 2022/23, up from 2.52 times in 2023/24. It’s one of the reasons why you see a hole the size of the Amazon in United’s midfield. That’s the river – not the broadcasters releasing a film next week to celebrate the 1999 treble.

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

It feels a lot better to wallow in history than worry about what lies ahead for United, at least in the short term. The final three league games are against Arsenal and Newcastle United at Old Trafford, before Brighton take on Manchester City the week before the FA Cup final. Ominous, because in six games against these opponents this season in league and cup matches, United have lost them all.

These are sobering times at the end of a flat season that has fallen so far below expectations that fans can’t quite believe what they’re seeing. Yet they still travel, filling every outing with songs of support and challenge, as they did on Monday on the shallow rake of Selhurst Park’s Arthur Wait Stand. They fill Old Trafford to its enormous capacity, despite the fact that teams at the bottom of the table probably have more possession and more chances than someone finding a bag of unused tickets.

Ten Hag gives a good interview and there is still a large group of fans – myself included – who want him to succeed at Old Trafford, to be given a chance as part of the new structure. But that becomes more difficult when you look at his team. Few were surprised to see Palace beat United for the second time this season. That was in September, but not now – not given Palace’s recent form and with Adam Wharton, a boy born twenty miles from Manchester, impressing.

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

Monday looked bleak even ahead of the match after Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire, last month’s top two players, suffered injuries in the build-up to the match.

But 4-0? Palace have not beaten anyone by four goals all season. This was disgusting, I can’t wait for the end of the season, just like it was at Palace two years ago for Ralf Rangnick’s last game. Ten Hag was there that day, the latest highly-rated manager ready to pounce on Manchester United’s embattled bronco, and he impressed on his first ride last season. At the age of two he is being thrown around and now appears to be in serious danger of falling off.

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

It is heavy. Change, with INEOS taking control, was welcomed by most fans fed up with life under the Glazers and the resulting underperformance, but it also brings uncertainty. There are coaches around Ten Hag who do not know whether they will still have a job at the end of next month when their contract expires. They would not get the huge payouts that Ten Hag could expect.

Some non-football staffers are annoyed that traditional privileges are being revoked in the name of efficiency and better culture. This will not gain any sympathy from fans, but the fact that staff could take a partner to the FA Cup final on a paid day out was seen as a reward for a season’s hard work, often with horribly anti-social hours – something to show that you proudly work for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

INEOS should also bring improvements. It wants to appoint what they call ‘best in class’ operators and the fans are right behind that, after what seemed like a second best approach for so long. Football comes first and it didn’t always feel that way in staff meetings, with leaders ignoring the final hammering on the pitch to reassure staff that commercial activity was flourishing.

The leading managers have virtually left under INEOS, with one notable exception: the manager. Previous United bosses have been sacked for less despite finishing higher than where the team currently resides this season, with Ten Hag averaging 1.54 points per game, down from 1.97 last season.

How United managers compare with each other

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David Moyes





Louis van Gaal





Jose Mourinho





Ole Gunnar Solskjaer





Erik ten Hag





Strangely enough, the reaction to the collapse now feels different from what happened to all those managers. David Moyes played 34 games in the season, one fewer than Ten Hag now, when he lost his job after it became clear United would not qualify for the Champions League, the minimum requirement. With Van Gaal, everyone knew he was going in February 2016, and he left after winning the FA Cup in May. Jose Mourinho himself said he deserved to lose his job, and Solskjaer’s decline could not be stopped when he felt some players were no longer performing for him.

Ten Hag is different. He wants to stay and is convinced that things will turn out well. He offers some serious relief amid the criticism: he went into the Palace match with his fifth and eighth centre-backs. Jonny Evans, who has played far more football than anyone expected this season, had only trained for two days after five weeks away and was up against a fast, powerful and direct Palace team. Evans could have apologized; instead, he put himself forward.

It wasn’t like there were many plan Bs: there were five youth players and two goalkeepers on his bench. The sound you hear is the barrel being scraped week after week.

Things are different for Ten Hag for several reasons. There is fatigue at the prospect of yet more changes in management, and the realization that it may not be so much the manager’s fault as the way the club is structured. He also did well in his first season: he won a first trophy since 2017 and defeated major rivals. Those two Europa League games against Barcelona showed a glimpse of how good his team can be.

The names mentioned as a possible replacement hardly inspire fans, while this season it is accepted that he has not had an easy time, especially with injuries and a year-long strategic review that led to some players approaching him and asking what was in for heaven’s sake was going on. .

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

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

Ten Hag could be more charismatic. It’s a shame he isn’t, because there’s a good personality there, with a nice line in humor – but when do we judge him? At press conferences when he’s trying to get hooked on a phrase? After a bad match? At such moments he can hardly tell nice anecdotes.

He is also stubborn. He has his idea of ​​how his team should play and will strive for that as much as possible, but it is difficult at the moment and fans absolutely have the right to discuss whether he is right or not for the club. A good friend of mine gave him up months ago and said he would like to cycle back to the Netherlands with him. If only Ten Hag had the time to go back himself… instead he is working hard to improve United amid the worst injury crisis of the modern era. What could every coach do?

United will end this season with their lowest points total since 1989-90. That was a season in which the team did not win a single league match against Luton away on November 18 until Millwall away on February 10. That was under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. He survived, just like Ten Hag. I don’t think a final decision was made on him like Van Gaal, Moyes or Mourinho were, weeks or months before they left.

How does United get out of this?

There is no simple answer. It will help to get players back as quickly as possible, with a number of players expected to return before the FA Cup final. The changes that INEOS initiates should also make a difference, but forgive the fans for being a bit skeptical about it.

They’ve been living this for more than a decade now and they’re tired of it – and tired of seeing rivals do it exactly where it matters most: on the pitch.

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)