Can Ten Hag find any positives in Man United’s humiliation at Liverpool?

Erik ten Hag put it in his own words: Manchester United’s 7-0 humiliation against Liverpool at Anfield was a “reality test”. But as the dust settles after a defeat equal to United’s biggest losing margin, the result could work in Ten Hag’s favour.

There is still a lot of work to be done at Old Trafford to turn United back into top trophy contenders – the Premier League and the Champions League – and Sunday’s brutal takedown against Jurgen Klopp’s side will allow Ten Haeg to point out the cracks. which were hidden during his team’s resurgence during his short time as the club’s manager.

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United were so bad last season, when they recorded their worst Premier League campaign ever, finishing sixth on 58 points, that the rise this time around may have lulled many fans and some at the club into a false sense of progress. United have had great success under Ten Hag, but Liverpool have shown the reality that there are still gaping holes at Old Trafford that need to be filled.

Few football clubs have experienced the ups and downs of Manchester United. A week ago, the victory in the final match of the League Cup against Newcastle United at Wembley (stream the replay on Sportzshala+ in the US) has sparked hardly plausible talk of a United double this season. However, they suffered a defeat seven days later, even worse than last season, when Liverpool’s two Premier League victories against their old rivals totaled 9-0.

United are unlikely to climb from third to first place in the Premier League this season despite boosting morale after ending a six-year trophy drought, although they could still add the FA Cup and Europa League to the League Cup. But just as predicting four trophies in a season was over the top, it would be equally preposterous to suggest that United manager Ten Hag should tear it up and start over after the defeat at Anfield – a defeat that saw United concede six goals in the second half.

During the loss to Liverpool, United’s desperate need for a proven centre-forward was underlined by Ten Hag’s tactical blunder that saw Marcus Rashford wear the number 9. But the lack of alternatives – a consequence of United’s mis-recruitment in recent years – left Ten Hug, forced to compromise his team by playing Rashford through the center, Bruno Fernandez on the left and Wout Weghorst in position No. 10.

Rashford has been a standout for United since the World Cup, mostly when he played his favorite role on the left flank, and he rarely shines so brightly when asked to play through the centre. But until United sign a striker like Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane or Napoli’s Victor Osimhen – sources tell Sportzshala both players are under surveillance ahead of a possible summer move – Ten Haeg will have to use square pegs in round holes in front because he doesn’t have anyone who can consistently operate as a centre-forward.

Weghorst is too slow and immobile to be a solution (one goal in 14 games for United is evidence of his shortcomings), and Anthony Martial’s fitness continues to be a constant problem. Rushford’s recent streak of 17 goals in 21 games has masked United’s lack of scoring threat, but his failure to cause problems for Liverpool has been a warning sign that Ten Haug must find someone to share the burden.

There are also questions about Fernandes and Antoni’s ability to turn things around for United in the most important games, and those doubts have only intensified with their respective performances against Liverpool. Ten Hag pushed United hard to sign Anthony from Ajax in the summer, so he’ll be pushy with the Brazil international, but his return to the Premier League with just three goals and no assists should be worrying. The £86m winger is noticeably one-footed, lacks pace and has a predictable style that cuts inside at every opportunity, so Ten Hag needs to find a way to make him a lot more efficient. The same applies to Fernandes. With five goals and six assists in the league this season, the midfielder’s numbers are decent enough, but he rarely makes a decisive difference against top teams. At Anfield, his out-of-position play did little to disprove the argument that he wasted away playing better opponents.

Ten Hag also has problems with the right-back, and this season he has successfully dealt with them. Neither Diogo Dalot nor Aaron Wan-Bissaka are capable of taking United to the next level, but both players have improved thanks to the work done by Ten Hag and his coaches at the training ground. Anfield have exposed Dalot’s shortcomings in dealing with elite teams. The Portugal international is honest and focused but lacks the speed and reading of the game required at the highest level. Meanwhile, Wan-Bissaka has repeatedly shown a lack of attention to defence, and his ability to possess the ball does nothing for United in terms of attack.

When United were winning, the issues that Ten Hag was supposed to solve were largely hushed up. But it is in the fight against the best teams, in the most difficult circumstances, that the truth about the team and its players is revealed. United made progress and Ten Hag got the team back on track, but Sunday added evidence that serious investment in the team is still required.

Despite progress, United have yet to beat a top-six away side. They lost to Manchester City, they lost to Arsenal and they lost to Liverpool. They have conceded 17 goals in those three losses and each one has been a reality check.

So while United’s hierarchy might be tempted to point to the positives as justification for small changes over the summer, Ten Hag should use the defeat at Liverpool as further strong evidence of the work that remains to be done.


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