Manchester United

A new season but the same grim failures for Manchester United

Scott Saunders
United were humbled 4-0 by Brentford
United were humbled 4-0 by Brentford / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages
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From the Gtech Community Stadium - Square pegs in round holes. Lacking basic fundamentals. Non-existent defending from set pieces. Chronic misunderstanding of how to defend counter attacks. No passion or drive. A player blame culture fostered over multiple seasons and a lackadaisical attitude to the transfer market which fails to address any of those issues with any modicum of urgency.

Say it with me; This is Manchester United.

We'd already known that Erik ten Hag was facing the task of a lifetime to turn this failing club around, and reality has truly hit home if it hadn't already. Two defeats from their opening two games would be enough to stomach without the facts that they'd been outplayed by Brighton last weekend and battered by Brentford on Saturday night. But this is where they are.

Liverpool, who beat them 9-0 over two league games last season, are next.

Ten Hag as manager is risk enough in his appointment from a largely hit and miss Dutch Eredivisie, with recruits ranging in success from Luis Suarez at Liverpool to Frank de Boer and his short-lived spell on the Crystal Palace touchline.

But to arm a new manager with a broken spirited group of players and very few reinforcements is catastrophic from those running Manchester United. Ten Hag is set up to fail and is fast moving towards becoming yet another fall guy for the joke of a team created on the pitch over a number of years, under a long list of managers and rotten owners.

He's already been christened Erik ten Weeks, Erik ten Games, Erik ten Months. There were jibes of Erik ten Nil for a spell on Saturday and United are lucky it didn't get worse than four.

But Ten Hag has to learn and adapt quickly, because this United always manage to make it worse - even from the moment you think they've hit rock bottom.

His choice to hook Lisandro Martinez at half time - many have questioned his ability as a centre half due to his height - may be an indicator that he knows he's got that one wrong already. English-football-hardened Ben Mee took advantage of him from a set play and Brentford profited during their first half goal glut.

The Argentinian's defensive instincts, desire for a tackle and mobility may be better suited protecting a defence which leaks goals no matter the partnership on the pitch and no matter the opponent.

But that would be, as mentioned at the top, fitting another square peg in a round hole. Christian Eriksen - a creative midfielder best positioned somewhere in the final third - is Ten Hag's de-facto number six at the moment and was dispossessed on the edge of his own box for Brentford's second goal. Square peg, round hole.

Perhaps Frenkie de Jong is the press-resistant answer to that problem, but United have been trying to sign him for four months and still haven't managed it. Best of luck to them with that if he's caught any of this game.

But even the Dutchman's arrival will not fix everything. United's need for a defensive midfielder has been clear for years and it still seems they think they can get by without one; as they're trying to sign Adrien Rabiot. Nobody's quite sure what he is, or what he does. Apart from cause trouble.

United have endless problems to address and Ten Hag's first job will be, like those before him, to stop the bleeding. Take backwards steps before forward ones. Focus on getting the basics right and stop the leak of goals. It would probably help if one of the club's best players last year didn't let a ball slip underneath him in the opening ten minutes to set the tone for an awful evening.

There were already concerns about De Gea's ability to work in a system which plays the ball out from the back, and his shortcomings were clear to see in that aspect too. De Gea has been often described as "a problem, but long down the list of problems" so it really gives an indication on just how serious so many issues are at United.

It stems from the top. United's pitiful market spend so far this summer has failed to address a multitude of problems which have existed for months. They have let six first team players go and not replaced them.

"For me, it is clear there will be six, seven, eight, maybe ten new players. Before you sign those players you need to be aware how you want to play," were the words of Ralf Rangnick after a 4-0 defeat to Liverpool in April. The club decided not to listen, buried their head in the sand and parted ways after hiring him in the wrong job - a manager instead of sporting director.

It hasn't taken long for Rangnick to be proven right. You dread to think what's next.

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