Written By: Abidoye Babatunde
Manchester United’s season is now close to fully going off the rails after they were knocked out of the EFL Cup by a second-string Newcastle side on Wednesday.
The Old Trafford club have lost eight of their first 15 games of a season for the first time since 1962/63, and five of their first 10 at home for the first time since 1930/31.
Here are five things that must change if United are to turn their crisis around.
The senior players must take more responsibility
While there are much bigger issues at United than what is produced on the pitch, there remains no excuse for the performances of so many players this season, chiefly those who are considered the best and most senior.
Marcus Rashford has scored just one goal in all competitions so far, while Bruno Fernandes is only one better. It is a far cry from the 30 the England forward hit last season, while the Portuguese club captain’s usually high goal contributions have dried up significantly, even if his chance creation remains high.
United’s top league scorer is Scott McTominay with three goals, while Casemiro sits on top in all competitions with four. The Brazilian, in particular, has had a very poor start to the season punctuated by suspension and injury.
The tactics must change
United had a relatively defined style last season, with Ten Hag changing things up after those two harrowing opening losses to Brighton and Brentford.
With Casemiro, and not Frenkie de Jong, at the base of midfield, United were sturdy and strong, with hard running and at times intricate passing. This new-found toughness was reflected in a league-high number of clean sheets, even if there was the occasional big, big loss, which wasn’t too shocking considering so much still had to change.
Ten Hag wanted to update that style this season and make United “the best transition team in the world” but it has not panned out, with players playing out of position and others not playing much at all, including Mason Mount, who was meant to be a key player.
United are playing too direct and aimlessly, and struggling to create chances and sustain attacks as a result, while leaking goals like rain through the Old Trafford roof. That must be altered as soon as possible.
The manager must re-find his mojo
After inheriting a disjointed United squad in the summer of 2022, Ten Hag enjoyed a solid opening season at Old Trafford, coming third in the league and making both domestic cup finals, winning the Carabao against the side that knocked them out on Wednesday.
This was the only season post-Sir Alex Ferguson that the club won a trophy and finished in the top four concurrently, and a first trophy in six seasons.
However, this season has seen the team regress at an alarming rate, and the spirit that was seen in several big wins and comebacks last season has appeared to evaporate, outside of that miracle Brentford comeback.
Ten Hag has seemed to lose a hold of things, which is mitigated by so many off-field issues, but he needs to get his dressing room back onside and all rowing in the same direction.
If the former Ajax boss doesn’t find a solution, and quickly, he will follow the likes of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær on the post-Ferguson sack list.
The board must be replaced
United have struggled since the retirement of Ferguson in 2013 but it unfortunately coincided with the exit of David Gill, the club’s long-term CEO, who worked in conjunction brilliantly with the legendary manager.
This left a vacuum of leadership in the most important roles at the club, which have not been adequately filled since, with United appearing miles behind Manchester City and Liverpool in recent years at executive level, and now Newcastle too.
That is reflected in the poor recruitment, which saw a club record signing in Paul Pogba eventually depart on a free transfer.
With Sir Jim Ratcliffe likely to assume sporting operations if and when his minority stake is signed and sealed, it is rumoured that there will be serious change across the board, which should see United improve in off-field aspects.
The Glazers must leave the club
United supporters have regularly protested against the club’s owners, ever since their highly-controversial leveraged buyout in the summer of 2005, and the desire for their departure has only grown in the post-Ferguson era, as the club has gone from serial title winners to also-rans.
There have been five permanent and four caretaker/interim managers in that decade, but zero league titles, zero serious title challenges and just two knockout tie victories in the Champions League.
According to a recent report from The Athletic, the club owes more than £1bn through a combination of gross debt (put onto the club by the Glazers) and other factors such as outstanding transfer payments. The club also made a £28.7m loss despite achieving record revenues of £648.4million last year.
The sooner the takeover saga at Old Trafford ends, the better for everyone involved.
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