MANCHESTER, England — Few teams have already fared better than Manchester United this season, and it’s easy to see why. Tottenham Hotspur are resurgent under Ange Postecoglou, Arsenal are genuine title contenders, Roberto Di Gerbi’s Brighton & Hove Albion are one of the best coaches in the Premier League and Bayern Munich are Champions League contenders. But Saturday’s defeat — 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace — was almost indescribable.
Of all the setbacks Erik ten Haag’s side have suffered this season, this is the biggest red flag of the lot. And they are running out of excuses now.
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Palace arrive at Old Trafford having won just three of their previous 14 Premier League away games and still find their way to United’s fifth defeat of the campaign and fourth in the league. The defeat marks United’s worst start to a league season for 34 years, and any hopes of building on Ten Haag’s positive first year as manager already appear to have been dashed.
With time running out, substitute Harry Maguire sent an aimless pass through the legs of Alejandro Garnacho and out for a Palace throw-in — a neat bow to a United performance that lacked any structure or cohesion. As the final whistle blew after the visitors’ 1-0 win and their 76-year-old manager Roy Hodgson ran onto the pitch in the Manchester rain to congratulate his players, boos rang out around Old Trafford.
“I understand,” Ten Hague said when asked about the reaction. “When we play at home or away and we play Crystal Palace, we have to win. With all due respect, I know every game in the Premier League is very difficult, you have to play your best and I understand that the fans expect to win and we didn’t win, we lost. .”
That was the start of United’s season turning around. Back-to-back wins against Burnley and Palace (in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday) were the perfect start to a run of form that included seven games at home before November. 1, but Old Trafford is no longer the fortress it was last season. Brighton suffered their first home league defeat in more than a year when they won 3-1, but Palace repeated the trick just two weeks later and there will be plenty of anxiety among the fans who turn up here for games against Galatasaray on Tuesday and against Brentford in the Premier League four days later.
“We have now lost two games in a row in the Premier League [at home] And we have to do better, that’s for sure,” Ten Haag said. “We have to show in body language that Old Trafford is a fortress and you can’t get anything here and the only thing you can leave. with is a loss.
“I think I can’t blame the players and say they didn’t run. They gave everything, but in the last part, we didn’t do well in both boxes.”
The concern for Ten Haag is that nothing seems to be going right. United didn’t score enough goals last season but compensated with a seemingly clean sheet. So far this season, they have managed just three out of nine games in all competitions, while problems at the other end remain the same.
Marcus Rashford, who scored 30 goals last season, managed just one this term – the same number as the £72million summer signing. Rasmus Hjlund. Rashford was substituted with United still desperately searching for an equaliser, having already been replaced by 19-year-old Garnacho, who came off the bench after an hour.
“I think so [Rashford] Can do better and I’m sure it will come,” Ten Haag added. “He works hard and that’s what he’s doing. He will net and come, but it is not automatic. The team will have to invest a lot around him. Today, the decision-making was not good enough.”
Ten Hague are still without key defenders Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and the Dutchman may have felt aggrieved that referee Chris Kavanagh did not see a handball against Joel Ward in the second half against Palace, but further mentions without a pass are the only cracks in United’s ongoing season. Will paper over.
We’ve been here before. In recent history, both previous managers Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered disastrous starts, failed to stop the rot and paid the price with their jobs. Ten Hague faces a similar problem and needs to get a tune out of his players quickly or – inevitably – it will be his head on the block.
He can be pleased that, after the full-time boos died down, he was applauded down the tunnel by the Stretford End fans who stayed until the end. Ten Hague still retain the support of the majority of supporters and club bosses who are trying to break a cycle of sacking managers when the going gets tough. But the results won’t sink in forever, and the time for excuses is over.