Man United’s horror collapse at Liverpool leaves season on a cliff

Where do you even begin to explain what happened at Anfield on Sunday? An afternoon that was as crazy as it was unexpected, there’s a dispute over which group of fans was more taken aback by its ridiculousness. Liverpool have endured an average campaign by their high standards, with goals all over the place against a backdrop of the terrace’s frustration at Fenway Sports Group ownership.

United, on the other hand, flew. Last week’s Carabao Cup success was their first trophy in six years and it came just days after a rousing European night at Old Trafford that saw a superb Barcelona side sent home. All of this was overshadowed by arguably one of the worst days in the club’s long history, a 7-0 monster against their bitterest enemies that threw a bombshell on the narrative that United’s years in the doldrums had come to an emphasized end.

Supporters are now holding their breath as they wait to find out if the bomb will cause a nuclear disaster in its season, or if Ten Hag can defuse it. The United manager has projected an aura of complete control in recent weeks – almost everything he touched turned to gold. But he was utterly helpless on the Anfield touchline and brutally stood motionless for the final 15 minutes as his players surrendered completely to their rampant rivals.

Liverpool have inflicted a lot of pain on United in this game in modern times, but something was different here. No one batted an eyelid as Ralf Rangnick, in charge of a completely shattered squad, watched his side go from pillar to pillar on Merseyside in less than a year. It had long been clear that United were cowardly and rudderless, going to Anfield and being slaughtered was simply further confirmation of the obvious.

But this? This is supposed to be a team on the rise.

Last summer, Ten Hag paid particular attention to recruiting not only the right footballers but also the right personalities. It’s taken some time but his side have clearly shown a steely resolve of late as they put up with a tough string of games – surviving Barcelona, ​​making a number against Newcastle at Wembley and then rallying from behind to make sure that West Ham didn’t knock them out of the FA Cup. Ten Hag himself spoke about the psychological influence of Casemiro, Rafael Varane and Lisandro Martinez; proven winners, bringing a champions mentality and big game nous to a previously soft, centered mess.

And yet all three were front and center when United threw in the towel on Sunday.

Ten Hag isn’t going to panic, but such a monumental collapse might be enough to make him question how much he really knows about this group of players. If he ever felt that they no longer had such results in them, he was clearly wrong.

Undoubtedly teams better than United were chewed up and spat out at Anfield. But as Ten Hag himself said, it was the type of surrender that was most alarming. United will have regrouped by half-time and feel they should at least be on the goalscoring chart. Within 10 minutes of the restart, they could barely raise the white flag fast enough.

Their defense was so poor it became comical: Liverpool were allowed to score seven goals from eight shots on goal. Whenever it looked like an attack might fizzle out, a United player was on standby to keep him alive. It was truly one of the craziest and most bizarre performances by a football team you will ever see.

Were there any mitigating circumstances? United’s squad is too thin to sustain recent momentum forever, but weary-legged explaining that away will never wash at a club of such stature. Ten Hag also has to take his share of the blame. By positioning Bruno Fernandes on the left, the manager gave a defensive suspect Trent Alexander-Arnold a day to worry about who would come in behind him. The 10th-placed Wout Weghorst experiment didn’t pay off either, a move that might have made sense had United opted to play high in the Dutchman via Liverpool’s press, but that wasn’t the case. They really didn’t do much other than bring about a massacre through a complete and catastrophic collective loss of head.

The big question now, of course, is whether this was a particularly horrifying stray or the start of something more insidious. I understand the willingness to write it off as the worst day at the office, but some defeats are so traumatic that they leave an indelible mark on a group of players and a club. There will have been younger fans in the away team – and watching from behind the sofa on TV – whose grandchildren will still be responsible. It really was that bad.

Given the progress of the last few months, no one in their right mind suggests showing Ten Hag out the door. However, it is no exaggeration to say that the result of isolation strays into “baggable crime” territory. He’s not going to lose his job, and he shouldn’t, but it’s just one of a myriad of reasons why the whole episode is so hard to fathom.

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Are United still a weak side who just had a particularly good run? I’m inclined to say no. But there’s also that nagging feeling that good teams never lose games in such a disgraceful way. There were occasional smacks in the Sir Alex Ferguson era too, but I don’t recall a team under his leadership underperforming in a way that can only be described as ‘slamming’.

Even the infamous 6-1 win over Manchester City at Old Trafford wasn’t so embarrassing – United were battered that day because they were a group of 10 men bravely/naively trying to salvage a situation they had already overcome. Sunday was tough and this current group wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. Liverpool were great as everyone knows they can be let’s not overlook that. But was that 7-0 with six goals great in the second half?

Perhaps the safe middle ground is that United improved massively under Ten Hag, but that their starting point was so low we all overestimated the level he raised them to. From here, this could either turn out to be an agonizing reality check that ultimately inspires further improvement, or it could completely undo all its good work.

For an already hurt fanbase, it’s going to be a paralyzing, anxious wait to find out. Man United’s horror collapse at Liverpool leaves season on a cliff

Russell Falcon

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