Manchester United deliver their worst performance in the post-Ferguson era as Spurs leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clutching at straws
Manchester United’s post-Sir Alex Ferguson malaise lurches to a new low. All that are associated with the club – from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Glazer family ownership and the players who succumbed to this humiliating 6-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur – will be scrutinised after the worst performance and result since Ferguson’s retirement seven years ago.
Almost every one of Tottenham’s six goals could be a candidate for the most amateurish pieces of defending that a United team has ever managed on their own turf. Jose Mourinho left Old Trafford having not only beaten his former employers but shamed them. This was a quite stunning victory for him and for Tottenham, who were superior in every way, even before Anthony Martial’s 28th-minute sending off.
The desperate clamour for new signings at United will only grow louder, as it has ever since Ferguson’s retirement and the club’s fall from grace. Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles both flew into Manchester on Sunday evening and hopefully had other options when it came to in-flight entertainment. Both are expected to finalise last-ditch moves before Monday’s transfer deadline. United are yet to admit defeat in the pursuit of Jadon Sancho, either.
Yet if ever a performance could illustrate that the problems will not be solved by throwing good money after bad, this was it. Bruno Fernandes – a player hailed as a saviour prior to his arrival, then briefly appeared to live up to the billing – was hooked at half time. Paul Pogba, who arrived at Old Trafford as the world’s most-expensive player, was at fault for at least two of the goals. The defence and goalkeeper which shipped six was signed for a combined sum of £209m. Spending money is no panacea.
United’s squad may require reinforcement but it is strong enough to avoid plumbing these depths, just as it was strong enough a fortnight ago to avoid the opening game defeat against Crystal Palace. Solskjaer has spent the last year-and-a-half in charge without finding any level of consistency in results, as long unbeaten runs are followed by insipid, lifeless performances. Sancho or no Sancho, that will not be solved before 11pm on Monday night. They are much, much further away than that.
United conceded four goals in the first half for the first time in the Premier League era, home or away, and yet actually took the lead. Fernandes scored a penalty after the final whistle had blown at Brighton in the last Premier League outing and had another after just 23 seconds when Martial went down under Davinson Sanchez’s challenge. Indeed, Fernandes converting from 12 yards may be the only reliable thing about United at the moment.
That lead lasted all of just three minutes, wiped out by United’s first piece of woefully incompetent defending. In an almost comical fashion, Maguire headed the ball into the face of centre-back partner Bailly, who was starting a top-flight match for the first time since April 2019 and played like it too. When it bounced back in Maguire’s direction, another limp header by the United captain sent the ball towards goal. Luke Shaw attempted to hold off Erik Lamela but the ball broke loose in the area, inviting Tanguy Ndombele to stab home.
If that was bad, the defending for Tottenham’s second was hardly any better. After a cheap Maguire foul against Kane in midfield, a quick free-kick sent Son Heung-min running through one-on-one. The ease with which the South Korean shook off Bailly was borderline embarrassing. Shaw, attempting to slide in and block the goal-bound finish, instead took out his goalkeeper. To call United’s efforts anything other than utterly shambolic would be an understatement.
For every goal Tottenham plundered from thereon, United could point to the controversial sending off of Martial for leaving them with 10 men. It was a poor decision. Martial certainly pushed Lamela’s face with his hand while awaiting delivery of a Tottenham corner, but only after Lamela had pushed his forearm into Martial’s midriff and up towards his neck. It was the type of incident which required either no action or two red cards. To only punish one player felt unjust.
And yet, it cannot be used as an excuse. Within a minute of Martial’s departure, Tottenham had doubled their lead and again, United only had themselves to blame. An abysmal attempt to play out from the back with a goal kick saw Bailly’s pass intercepted on the edge of his own penalty area. Son advanced into the box against a mass of mangled United defenders yet still found time and space to square for Kane, who drilled a low finish past De Gea’s despairing dive.
United only seemed concerned with inventing new and yet more ridiculous ways of allowing Tottenham to score. Shaw had entirely vacated his left-back position and was lining up as a centre-half when Ndombele sprayed the ball out to that wing. As Maguire went over to cover for his team-mate, Shaw went for another wander, allowing Son to drift to the right-hand corner of the six-yard box unopposed. Aurier’s cross went through Maguire’s legs, just as Son’s finish from a tight angle went through De Gea’s.
That this was the team with the third-best defensive record in the top flight last season was scarcely believable, but United’s raw defensive numbers have always appeared a little misleading. In the vast majority of Premier League games, United offer their opponents relatively few goal-scoring chances by enjoying long spells of largely stale possession. In transition, against dynamic counter-attacking outfits, their deficiencies become horribly exposed.
That should not take anything away from Tottenham, however, who scored a well-worked fifth at the start of the second half. The ball momentarily broke loose as Tottenham advanced during the build-up, though when no United player bothered to chase it down, they allowed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to delightfully switch play out to the right wing. Aurier had snuck in on the blindside of a static Pogba and into the penalty area, hitting a composed finish across De Gea.
And Pogba was at fault again for the sixth, conceding a senseless penalty on Ben Davies. Kane converted and compounded the misery on Solskjaer, who at the final whistle was seen complaining to Anthony Taylor about Martial’s red card. As anyone watching this dire performance surely knows, United’s problems run much deeper than that.
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