It was supposed to be the season that United made a statement.
Erik Ten Hag enjoyed a fruitful campaign last season, guiding Manchester United to a 3rd place finish, two domestic cup finals, and claimed their first silverware since 2016/17 in the form of the Carabao Cup.
It seemed that the good times had returned to Old Trafford, and that the Red Devil’s could kick on this year, and challenge Manchester City and Arsenal for the title.
However, it seems it was another false dawn for a club that has endured too many of those in recent times. The calamitous start to this season puts United firmly on the precipice of a crisis, after only 5 league games of the season.
Fortuitous wins over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest temporarily papered over the cracks, but losses to Arsenal, Spurs, and a drubbing at home to Brighton, followed by the most recent 4-3 loss to Bayern Munich has put United in a tough spot already.
The club’s on-pitch problems have been clear for all to see, with the lacklustre performance against Brighton a damning indictment of the backwards steps the club has taken in the past few months. Man Utd’s starting XI for the game at Old Trafford was £347 million, whilst Brighton’s was just £17.5m.
Despite this, the south coast side played their hosts off the park, and were dominant in every capacity. The work rate of certain players, such as Marcus Rashford was called into question, and Ten Hag’s tactical and in-game decisions were also scrutinised. This is not the first game this season in which United have been shambolic throughout, and this is cause for concern for the club moving forward.
In addition to the club’s on-field struggles, there has also been inner turmoil over the past few weeks. First of all there was a very public falling out between player and manager, as Jadon Sancho called out Ten Hag’s comments suggesting he was dropped from the team due to poor performance in training.
Then the revelations pertaining to Brazilian winger Antony’s past relationships were leaked to the press, throwing yet more turmoil into the mix. Combined with this has been the recent public “leaks” to the media from internal sources hinting at dressing room unrest.
So what does the future look like for Ten Hag’s United? Well, mercifully, their upcoming fixture list does look a little more palatable, with Burnley (a), followed by Crystal Palace (h) twice in a row (in the league cup and Premier League). Should United drop points in these games, it could be viewed as a full blown crisis at the club. But fans will be hopeful the club can turn things around and have a strong season, with Ten Hag having a platform to grow.
In what is believed by many to be a transitional period for United, this is a club weighed down by the constraints of expectation, and one step forward followed by two steps back is hardly the start to the season many would have envisioned.