The many problems of Man United: SIX reasons why it’s falling apart for Erik ten Hag with mental vulnerability, off-the-field distractions, balance issues and Marcus Rashford’s form to blame
- Manchester United have suffered their worst start during the Premier League era
- They also lost their first two Champions League group games for the first time
- Click HERE to listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s ‘It’s All Kicking Off’
When Manchester United lost 4-0 at Brentford in Erik ten Hag’s second game as manager last year, it felt as though their world was falling apart. Fourteen months on, United are preparing to face Brentford again at Old Trafford on Saturday, and the latest crisis feels considerably worse.
Six defeats in the opening 10 games of the season have plunged the club into turmoil after their worst start since Alex Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson 37 years ago.
There are boos from the terraces, the players are low on confidence and Ten Hag desperately needs to stop the rot before it gets out of control.
So how has it come to this? How has the ship that Ten Hag steadied after that defeat at Brentford drifted so catastrophically off course?
Mail Sport looks at some of the key problems that have caused United to make their worst start in the Premier League era and open a Champions League group campaign with back-to-back defeats for the first time.
Erik ten Hag’s side are in a crisis after losing six of their opening ten matches to the season
Manchester United are low on confidence and have suffered their worst start to a season in the Premier League era, while also losing their opening two Champions League group games
Injuries are part and parcel of football, but there is no getting away from the fact that a crippling casualty list has had a big impact on United’s performances.
No fewer than 16 players have been out of action at any point since pre-season. That includes new signings Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount, Sofyan Amrabat and Sergio Reguilon.
The defence has been particularly hard hit with Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia lost to long-term injuries. Raphael Varane has also been sidelined.
The absence of Shaw, Malacia and Reguilon means that midfielder Amrabat has had to play out of position at left-back, and he has struggled over the last two games.
Luke Shaw is one of 16 players that have been out of action at some point already this season
New signing Sofyan Amrabat had to play out-of-position at left-back due to injuries for Shaw, Tyrell Malacia and Sergio Reguilon
Back to front
There is a fundamental imbalance to United so far this season. Ten Hag’s side can be strong on defence or attack – just not at the same time.
In Saturday’s defeat to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, United gave up very few chances but couldn’t create them. When they lost to Galatasaray in the Champions League on Wednesday, it was the other way around.
Hojlund scored twice and could have had a hat-trick, Mount had two close-range efforts blocked before half-time and Marcus Rashford inexplicably failed to play Bruno Fernandes in when the United skipper had an open goal in the second half.
No team outside the top-12 have scored fewer than United’s seven Premier League goals this season, while the 18 shipped in the first 10 games is the most since 1966.
Man United have shipped 18 goals in the first ten games – the most they have conceded after the same point in a season since 1966
No team outside the top-12 have scored fewer than United’s seven Premier League goals this season – though Rasmus Hojlund (pictured) has impressed in the Champions League
While new goalkeeper Andre Onana has only been directly responsible for one of those goals – Leroy Sane’s opener for Bayern Munich in the Champions League – the Cameroonian has yet to justify Ten Hag’s faith in ditching David de Gea in the summer and signing his former Ajax keeper for £47.2million.
Onana was brought in to improve United distribution from the back, but the lack of confidence among the 27-year-old and his defenders means that United have reverted to knocking the ball long.
When Onana did try to go short against Galatasaray, his weak pass to Casemiro was intercepted and the Brazilian conceded a penalty and was sent off for a second yellow card.
In Onana’s defence, he has suffered through not playing behind a settled back-four with Martinez, Varane and Shaw sorely missed. Even when Martinez was available, he was struggling with a recurrence of a foot injury that has now ruled him out for up to three months.
Andre Onana gave the ball away which led to team-mate Casemiro (right) getting sent off for a seconed yellow card against Galatasaray
Onana has yet repay Ten Hag’s faith in ditching David de Gea (right) for the Cameroonian keeper
As well as the injury crisis, United have also been without Antony and Jadon Sancho for parts of the season due to off-the-field issues.
Antony was away from the club for three weeks on fully-paid leave after he faced allegations, which he strongly denies, from three women that he attacked them.
The player resumed training on Saturday and returned to action as a late substitute in the Galatasaray defeat. But the problems have not gone away and his ex-girlfriend Gabriela Cavallin is due to speak to Greater Manchester Police on Thursday.
Antony returned to action as a late substitute for United in their defeat to Galatasaray
Sancho, meanwhile, has been training on his own for more than a month after Ten Hag banished the player from the first-team squad for publicly questioning his reasons for dropping the player against Arsenal.
Sancho is refusing to give his manager the apology he wants, and it is looking increasingly likely that he will leave the club in January.
Both issues have had an impact on team morale, with the players noticing that much of the unity built up in Ten Hag’s first season has been lost.
Jadon Sancho has been training on his own after he was banished from the squad by Ten Hag
The other problem concerning United’s mentality is that the team struggle to hold onto a lead when they are ahead and seem to fall apart when they go behind.
United conceded a minute after going ahead at Arsenal, four minutes after reducing the deficit at Bayern Munich, and twice surrendered the lead against Galatasaray.
The one exception is the comeback from two goals down against Nottingham Forest, but all three of United’s Premier League wins this season – Wolves, Forest and Burnley – have been unconvincing.
There is a vulnerability to the squad that wasn’t there last season when they recovered from a poor start to finish third and win the Carabao Cup.
United twice surrendered the lead against Galatasaray – a common problem this season
Rashford in reverse
If one player sums up the drop-off at United this season it’s Marcus Rashford. The England man was unstoppable in Ten Hag’s first campaign, top scoring with 30 goals.
However, after signing a new £300,000-a-week contract in the summer, Rashford seems strangely out of sorts.
He has struggled to strike up a partnership with Hojlund, although he set up the Dane’s opener against Galatasaray.
Marcus Rashford has been out of sorts, often criticised for being too greedy or taking the wrong option, and has struggled to strike up a partnership with new signing Hojlund
Rashford has also been criticised for being too greedy or taking the wrong option, and that was true at a critical point of the defeat to the Turks.
Sent racing clear in the second half, he had the choice to shoot or present Fernandes with an open goal. Rashford was caught in two minds, squaring a weak pass to Fernandes that allowed Sacha Boey to get back and clear.
United need Rashford firing on top form if they are going to turn their season around from here.
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