Manchester United’s disastrous season plumbs new depths following meek Champions League exit

Bruno Fernandes

The sound of boos rang out around Old Trafford once again.

It’s become the theme tune for Manchester United’s disastrous season, which plumbed new depths on Tuesday as the team crashed out of the Champions League following a 1-0 defeat at home to Bayern Munich.

When the draw was made back in August, a group featuring Bayern, Copenhagen and Galatasaray didn’t immediately look like it would be a difficult one to qualify from.

But not only did Manchester United fail to get out of the group, Erik ten Hag’s side finished rock bottom with a grand total of four points from six games, recording just one win and finishing with the worst defensive record in history for an English club in the Champions League.

However, to say United crashed out would imply the team made some noise as it exited the competition, but in reality this was as meek of a Champions League departure as you’re ever likely to see.

As the match neared its conclusion, Bayern’s supporters started singing “Football’s Coming Home” and “This is a Library” to inflict further pain on the home supporters.

In a game that the players and manager knew only a win would give them a chance of qualifying for the round of 16, the team mustered one shot on target. One. And it would be hard to even class that shot on target as a chance, with Manuel Neuer comfortably punching away Luke Shaw’s fanciful long-range shot in the first half.

United fans will be under no illusions that this team and manager currently appear to be well out of their depth, which would have made it all the more concerning to hear Ten Hag describe United’s woeful performance against Bayern as “very good.”

“We didn’t lose it [a place in the last 16] today, that’s clear,” Ten Hag told TNT Sports after the match. “I think we had some good performances, but then we also made mistakes, some individual errors from more players and it’s not good enough.

“Today I think the performance was again very good and we didn’t deserve to lose, but we lost the game.

“I think the team did very good, we were very good in defensive organization, we were very good in our pressing, we regained the ball many times especially at the start of the second half, but then we don’t benefit from it and that is also the truth.”

Ten Hag added that he thought his team “absolutely” showed enough effort and conviction on the pitch in a must-win game. United fans will likely be wondering if their manager was watching a different match.

It’s hard to see where Manchester United goes from here.

The January transfer window is fast approaching but given the large sums of money spent on failed signings under Ten Hag, it’s unclear how much United will be able to spend to try and revamp the squad once again.

Fans will be hoping the sale of a 25% stake in the club to British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe will be completed before the window opens, but they are also justifiably concerned about United’s future given the majority stake the Glazer family will retain in the club.

The team is now out of contention in three of four competitions this season, leaving the FA Cup as the only remaining chance of silverware.

Ten Hag was insistent that United’s troubles in the Champions League – most notably failing to hold onto leads – wouldn’t bleed into the Premier League campaign and called on Rasmus Højlund to carry over his goalscoring form from Europe. The 20-year-old Danish striker has still to score a Premier League goal.

“He has to take that belief into the Premier League,” Ten Hag said.

“I think that counts for the whole team, we have to take some good performances into the Premier League. We want to be back again in the Champions League.”

Currently, that certainly appears easier said than done off the back of United’s humbling and humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday.

A run of six wins in eight matches in the Premier League masked some turgid performances and comically resulted in Ten Hag winning the Manager of the Month award during one of the worst starts to a season in the club’s history.

Speaking on CBS Sports after the match, former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said Ten Hag likely thought Tuesday’s performance against Bayern was “very good” because he and this team have set the bar so low.

“Because it’s been so poor for Manchester United this season, you’re playing one of the top teams in Europe, you’re missing injured players, so I think it’s almost a case of because you haven’t been beaten three- or four-nil, one-nil actually feels okay,” he said.

“You’re in the game for an hour … so he’s probably watching the game and thinking: ‘Okay, we’re still in this’ and it’s almost like a slight feel-good factor but I think because you lose 3-0 to Bournemouth at the weekend and you’re now playing one of the giants of European football and you only lose 1-0, he’s trying to take something from it to get to Sunday,” added Carragher, referring to United’s next match against Liverpool.

“I’m sure that will be the message tomorrow when he sees the players: ‘That wasn’t all bad, you’re playing one of the top teams in Europe, it was 1-0, anything could have happened.’ I just think that’s a manager trying to clutch at straws.”

Things won’t be getting any easier for United, with the team facing a trip to Anfield on Sunday to take on a resurgent Liverpool that now tops the Premier League table.

If Ten Hag thought Tuesday’s performance was “very good,” United fans will likely be very concerned about the standard of football the players will serve up against their bitter rivals on Sunday.


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