‘Inconsistent, awful and the most boring team in the Premier League’: Man United manager’s $750m calamity
Under-fire manager Erik ten Hag says misfiring Manchester United have to “step up” and find a modicum of consistency after Nottingham Forest inflicted their 14th defeat of a chastening season.
A year that began with positivity and silverware ended with the Red Devils under intense scrutiny given they are already out of Europe, the Carabao Cup and Premier League title race.
Critics have pounded them again after this latest defeat.
United have been infuriatingly inconsistent throughout the campaign, epitomised by the thrilling 3-2 Boxing Day turnaround against Aston Villa being followed up Saturday’s limp 2-1 loss at Forest.
“Manchester United are back to their worst, back to what they are – inconsistent and awful,” fumed club legend Gary Neville.
“One thing is clear we are not consistent,” Ten Hag acknowledged. “We can beat the best teams in the league, but we also lose games we should win, and I think today was one of them.
“We always have to swap (players due to absentees). I don’t think I talk a lot about players we don’t have. Every time I am telling it doesn’t matter who we line up, we have to win.
“But the routines are not there if every time we have to swap.
“Today is another example. When (Rasmus) Hojlund is ill, we have to swap our frontline and we have seen it in the first half there was no speed in the game there.”
This was quite the comedown from the Boxing Day victory against Villa and the positivity some fans felt after the Christmas Eve announcement that Sir Jim Ratcliffe is becoming minority owner.
INEOS are taking responsibility for the footballing operations and Ten Hag said on Friday that he was convinced they wanted to keep him on as manager.
Sir Dave Brailsford, INEOS’ director of sport, watched Saturday’s game in the directors’ box alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, whose final league title in 2013 looks unlikely to be added to anytime soon.
“They know me and they know when I have a squad what is available, then the results will be there,” Ten Hag said.
“We are already proving against the top teams we can go head to head, so I’m convinced and have strong belief we get more progress in this team, that we get more consistency in.
“I think this is part of a project. We were overperforming last year. This year so, far, we are underperforming.
“We have to do better, we have to step up and I have to lead that process.”
The performances have made as grim viewing as the results, with this United’s 14th loss of the season in all competitions and 21st in total of 2023.
Asked if he is confident of things improving, Ten Hag said: “Yeah, of course I believe that.
“I know when players are returning, then I am sure this side will be stronger.
“You have to clinically analyse this, then we know where it’s come from. We have a lack of routines, we have to work on that.”
The post-match analysis will be dominated by United, but this was Forest’s night.
Four days on from winning 3-1 at Newcastle, new manager Nuno Espirito Santo celebrated his first home win in charge as they beat the Red Devils for the first time since 1994.
Morgan Gibbs-White’s late strike from the edge of the box wrapped up a memorable triumph after Marcus Rashford had capitalised on a terrible Matt Turner pass to cancel out Nicolas Dominguez’s opener.
Neville said the result left ten Hag facing pressure to retain his job.
“They [Ineos] will make a decision on the manager before the end of the season, I have no doubt, even though they will keep him in charge until the end of the season. They have been so poor though and if that continues, Erik ten Hag will find himself under real pressure,” said Neville.
.”Ten Hag did a very good job in his first season, now the new ownership will be on a watching brief and Brailsford will look at what this club is and he is not going to like what he sees.
“I have more optimism under the new owners. They are currently operating without a sporting director, without a CEO and without a head of recruitment. What club in the world does that?
“Ten Hag is operating without a management team around him, which is incredible to think. He has been handed the keys to the safe and that shouldn’t happen.”
Ex-Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I had someone message me earlier asking if Manchester United are the most boring team in the Premier League. You know what, it’s hard to argue with that.
“The thing that troubles me with Erik ten Hag is I don’t know what game he was watching when he comes out and answers like that. There comes a time when he has to take responsibility. He has spent over £400m ($750m).”
Former Wales midfielder Robbie Savage added: “You are looking at the standard of players like Antony. He will develop but at Manchester United is the number of goals and assists he has good enough? No.
“Who has been saying, ‘let’s go and buy Antony for £90m’ when he’s worth £30m? Or Casemiro for £60m? And also, how many of the players who have been brought in have increased their value?”
Aston Villa have scored a late penalty to beat strugglers Burnley 3-2 and move second in the Premier League, while world champions Manchester City defeated Sheffield United 2-0 to move third.
Villa’s win puts them level on points with leaders Liverpool, while City have moved to within two points, although both the pursuers have played a game more than the Anfield pacesetters.
Villa went ahead in the 28th minute through Leon Bailey but Burnley equalised just three minutes later when Zeki Amdouni fired home from close range.
Moussa Diaby added a second for Villa in the 42nd minute and the visitors were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when midfielder Sander Berge was given a second caution for tugging back Douglas Luiz.
Foster, though, hauled short-handed Burnley level with 20 minutes left only for Aaron Ramsey to foul Jhon Duran to concede an 89th-minute penalty.
Luiz sent his spot-kick on to the underside of the crossbar and into the roof of the net to secure another home win for Villa.
At the Etihad, after Man City paraded all the five trophies they’ve won in 2023, Rodri gave them the lead in the 14th minute with a low finish into the bottom corner after good hold-up play by Phil Foden.
Midfielder Jack Grealish – whose Cheshire home had been burgled while he was away playing at Everton on Wednesday night – was taken off early in the second half and replaced by Oscar Bobb.
And Bobb was involved with City doubling their lead just after the hour from close range after he played in Foden.
City’s ladder position is not bad considering Pep Guardiola’s team have struggled to hit the heights of last season’s treble-winning campaign and have been without the talismanic Kevin De Bruyne since August.
The Belgium international is on his way back from a hamstring injury and City are finding form after a recent run of just one win in six league games.
“We’re not top of the league, Liverpool are better,” Guardiola said. “We’ve had injuries and some problems. Our level is really good I would say and we are there.”
Earlier, Chelsea survived a spirited late fightback by Luton to win a 3-2 thriller at Kenilworth Road.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team had looked to be cruising to a first away victory since early November following a brace from Cole Palmer – his second goal showing fine close control – either side of Noni Madueke’s strike just before halftime.
Luton, though, set up a tense final 10 minutes after Ross Barkley scored against his former club before Elijah Adebayo pulled another back late on, but the Blues held out.
Michael Olise scored twice as Crystal Palace returned to winning ways after coming from behind to beat Brentford 3-1 at Selhurst Park.
Keane Lewis-Potter had fired the Bees into an early lead after just two minutes, but Palace equalised in the 14th minute when Olise volleyed home and Eberechi Eze completed the turnaround shortly before halftime.
Olise fired in a well-taken second from the edge of the penalty area in the 58th minute as Palace ended an eight-match winless run.
Wolves maintained their good form with a 3-0 win over relegation-battlers Everton at Molineux, their third straight win coming with goals from captain Max Kilman, Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson.