Manchester City’s 6-1 demolition of Manchester United at Old Trafford, 10 years and one day ago, was probably the worst defeat ever endured by Alex Ferguson.
In the club’s modern history, even in the post-Fergie wilderness, there had never quite been an occasion to match it, even accounting for Tottenham’s victory by the same scoreline last year.
There has now.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the hero of Barcelona 1999, knew a thing or two about creating spectacles as a player. As a manager, he still has the knack.
Manchester United 0, Liverpool 5. Has there ever been a more abject, visceral demolition of the 20-time English champions in the Premier League era? Has it ever looked this bad?
A goal down after five minutes and a missed Bruno Fernandes sitter. A hat-trick for Mohamed Salah, the first in the league away to United since QPR’s Dennis Bailey in 1992. A disallowed goal for Cristiano Ronaldo. A 15-minute cameo for Paul Pogba that ended in a red card. A total of 35 home goals conceded in 2021, their worst such return for 60 years. The biggest win for Liverpool over their rivals since 1925. And hardly a whiff of surprise about the whole sordid thing.
As former midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger tweeted at full-time: “A devastating day for all Man Utd supporters and the club but it didn’t come out of nowhere. It was not a surprise.”
A devastating day for all @ManUtd supporters and the club but it didn’t come out of nowhere. It was not a surprise. @LFC showed them the difference, which is huge – having a philosophy & vision. Congrats, #LiverpoolFC.
Hopefully #ManchesterUnited will get back very soon. #MUNLIV
— Bastian Schweinsteiger (@BSchweinsteiger) October 24, 2021
City’s 6-1 win in October 2011 was a watershed moment; a giant step on the way to their first Premier League title. But it was still an aberration: after all, United finished level on points that season and responded by winning the trophy back a year later.
This was more in keeping with Liverpool and City’s 3-0 wins over David Moyes’ United. Those games, too, were barely contests, barely surprising given United’s problems, and barely left the manager anywhere to hide.
The Glazers have stood by Solskjaer, resolutely, perhaps misguidedly. Watching United lose 3-1 at Anfield was enough for them to sack Jose Mourinho three years ago. If they tuned in to Sunday’s match, if they saw homecoming hero Ronaldo eclipsed by Salah and ‘legacy fans’ leaving in droves at half-time, can they afford not to act?
United have played nine games since the fanfare of Ronaldo’s goalscoring return against Newcastle United. They have won three of those, drawn one and lost five.
That’s bad enough, but consider the circumstances. Only a last-second penalty save from David de Gea ensured the 2-1 win at West Ham; only Ronaldo’s injury-time intervention salvaged an undeserved victory over Villarreal; only Tom Davies’ strange decision to pass to the offside Yerry Mina, rather than shoot, meant Everton left Old Trafford with only a 1-1 draw.
Fine margins have been the difference between United’s form being considered merely unacceptable, and the alarms this embarrassment will sound. Nobody who has watched them across those nine matches could seriously claim what happened against Liverpool could not have been foreseen.
The rain-soaked turf was a glistening canvas depiction of everything wrong about Solskjaer’s team – if we needed reminding.
There are the collective tactical concerns, as seen for Naby Keita’s opening goal, when Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan-Bissaka gave up their positions to press Liverpool with all the ferocity and endeavour of an apathetic tortoise.
There are the individual mistakes, some of which would be incomprehensible for amateurs, never mind those playing for the world’s most supported football club. Keita and Salah each scored with the United back five blocking not their route to de Gea’s goal, but back to the halfway line. Before Diogo Jota’s tap-in, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, defenders who cost a combined £110million, shied away from a loose ball as though under duress to keep dirt off the sponsor logos on their shirts.
United have committed eight errors leading to shots this season, the joint-most in the Premier League along with Wolves. But where Bruno Lage’s men counter that through tackling – only eight sides have won more – United have won a league-low 61. When it comes to making amends for these mistakes, the Red Devils right now are either not interested or not capable.
Salah completed his hat-trick early in the second half, Ronaldo had a fine goal of his own disallowed by VAR, but many United fans were no longer in the stadium to watch. The loyalty to Solskjaer’s legacy as a player has kept him immune to the kind of vitriol seen in the final days of Moyes, or Louis van Gaal, or Mourinho, but little served up by any of Fergie’s successors was quite as horrifying as this.
United’s daunting run of games since the October international break has yielded one win, two defeats, five goals scored and 11 conceded. With Tottenham, Atalanta and City to come next, you’d expect them to lose all three.
This is Manchester United’s new normal: a total, shameful mess.