Manchester United fans are angry and confused – they’re right to be

Manchester United is a confused, cursed and conflicted football club. Erik ten Hag’s side are out of form, out of confidence and out of ideas. Morale is low among players and staff. The results are almost as bad as the injury list.

Fans have been hoping it would get better all season. Instead, it has gotten worse.

The team which would have been deemed to have failed had they not qualified for next season’s Champions League, now look in serious danger of missing out on any European football, which would not be acceptable.

United are eighth in the Premier League, with two league wins in 10. Monday’s 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace was the nadir in a season of consistent lows, even worse than United’s minus-three goal difference after 35 games, or Casemiro’s drop in shape The Brazilian made 1.44 successful interceptions per game last season; this term, that figure has shrunk to 0.84. He lost 1.86 challenges per match last term against 2.73 this year.

Do you want more? He was dispossessed 0.59 times per game last term, 0.79 this, and he won possession back 4.61 times in 2022-23 against 2.52 in 2023-24. It is one reason you see a hole as wide as the Amazon in United’s midfield. That’s the river — not the broadcasters who are releasing a film next week celebrating the 1999 treble.

Casemiro has been a shadow of his old self (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Wallowing in history feels a lot better than engaging with what is awaiting United, in the short term at least. The final three league games are against Arsenal and Newcastle United at Old Trafford, then Brighton away the week before the FA Cup final against Manchester City. Ominous, as in six games against those opponents this season in league and cups, United have lost every single one.

These are sobering times at the end of a flat season which has fallen so far below expectations that fans can’t quite believe what they are seeing. Yet still they travel, filling every away end with songs of support and defiance as they did on the shallow rake of Selhurst Park’s Arthur Wait Stand on Monday. They fill Old Trafford to its vast capacity despite knowing that teams at the bottom of the table are likely to have more possession and more chances than someone who finds a bag of unused lottery tickets.

Ten Hag gives a good interview and there’s still a huge body of fans — myself included — who want him to succeed at Old Trafford, to get a chance as part of the new structure. But that becomes harder when you watch his team. Few were surprised that Palace beat United for the second time this season. They were in September, but not now — not given Palace’s recent form and with Adam Wharton, a lad born 20 miles from Manchester, impressing.

The same was true the last time United visited London for a league game. Then, against Chelsea in March, Cole Palmer, a childhood United fan from Wythenshawe, Manchester, stole the show. They lost that one too. United have played seven league games in London this season, winning one, drawing one and losing five. There are any number of horrific statistics that you can apply to this season and Selhurst on Monday compounded them.

Monday looked grim even pre-match after Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire, the best two players last month, were injured in the build-up to the game.

4-0 win? Palace haven’t beaten anyone by four goals all season. This was abject, can’t-wait-for-the-season-to-end stuff, just as it was at Palace two years ago for Ralf Rangnick’s final game. Ten Hag was there that day, the latest supremely regarded manager ready to jump on the Manchester United bucking bronco, and he impressed on his first ride last season. On his second, he’s being flung around and now looks in serious danger of falling off.

Erik ten Hag in the Selhurst Park stands in 2022, for Ralf Rangnick’s last game in charge (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s tough. Change, with INEOS taking control, was welcomed by most fans tired of life under the Glazers and the consequent underachievement, but with it comes uncertainty. There are coaches around Ten Hag who don’t know if they’ll have a job at the end of next month when their contracts run out. They wouldn’t get the vast pay-outs which Ten Hag could expect.

Some non-football staff are annoyed that traditional privileges are being rescinded in the name of efficiencies and a better culture. This won’t win any sympathy with fans, but staff being able to take a partner to the FA Cup final on a paid-for day out was seen as a reward for a season’s hard graft, often with hideously anti-social hours — something to show that you work, with pride, for one of the greatest clubs in the world.

INEOS should also bring improvements. It wants to appoint what they call ‘best in class’ operators and fans are right behind that after what has seemed like a second-best approach for so long. Football will come first and it didn’t always feel like that in staff meetings when leaders would ignore the latest hammering on the pitch to assure staff that commercial activity was buoyant.

The leading executives have all but departed under INEOS, with one notable exception… the manager. Previous United bosses have been dismissed for less despite finishing higher than where the team currently resides this season, with Ten Hag averaging 1.54 points per game, a drop from 1.97 last season.

How United managers compare

Manager & PPG Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4

David Moyes





Louis van Gaal





Jose Mourinho





Ole Gunnar Solskjaer





Erik ten Haag





Curiously, the response to the slump feels different now compared to what happened with all of those managers. David Moyes was 34 games into the season, one less than Ten Hag is now, when he lost his job after it was clear United wouldn’t qualify for the Champions League, the minimum requirement. With Van Gaal, everyone knew in February 2016 that he was going, and he left after winning the FA Cup that May. Jose Mourinho said himself that he deserved to lose his job, and Solskjaer’s slide could not be stopped when he felt some players stopped performing for him.

Ten Hag is different. He wants to stay and is convinced he’ll get it right. He offers serious mitigation amid the criticism: he went into the game at Palace with his fifth and eighth-choice centre-backs. Jonny Evans, who has played far more football than anyone expected this season, had trained for just two days after five weeks out and was put up against a fast, powerful and direct Palace team. Evans could have made his excuses; instead, he put himself forward.

It wasn’t like there were many plan Bs: there were five academy players and two goalkeepers on his bench. The sound you hear is the barrel being scraped week after week.

Things are different for Ten Hag for several reasons. There’s weariness with the prospect of more managerial changes, a realization that it might not be on the manager as much as the way the club has been structured. He did well in his first season, too, winning a first trophy since 2017 and defeating major rivals. Those two Europa League games against Barcelona showed a glimpse of how good his side can be.

The names linked as a possible replacement hardly inspire fans, while this season, there’s an acceptance that he’s not had it easy, especially with injuries and a year-long strategic review that led to some players approaching him and asking what on earth was going on .

He’s inherited serious issues, such as the Mason Greenwood situation, Cristiano Ronaldo sending him mixed messages about whether he wanted to stay and dropping his captain Harry Maguire. He handled each situation sensibly.

He’s made mistakes, like any human. The better Jadon Sancho does for Borussia Dortmund, the more United fans wonder why he couldn’t do the same in a red shirt of United, and some of that starts to reflect badly on the manager. Ten Hag is adamant that he gave the player as much support as he could and some of his staff have privately said that he went above and beyond what could be expected of a manager in building a personal relationship with a player.

Ten Hag could be more charismatic. It’s a shame he’s not because there’s a good personality there, with a nice line in humor — but when are we judging him? In press conferences when he’s trying to be hooked for a line? After a bad game? He can hardly be telling great anecdotes in those moments.

He’s stubborn, too. He has his idea of ​​how his team should play and will push towards that as much as he can, but it’s tough right now and fans are absolutely entitled to discuss whether he’s right or not for the club. One close friend of mine gave up on him months ago and said he would happily cycle with him back to the Netherlands. If only Ten Hag had time to go back himself… instead, he’s working his backside off to make United better amid the club’s worst injury crisis of modern times. What could any coach do?

United will finish this season with their lowest points total since 1989-90. That was a season when the team didn’t win a single league game from Luton away on November 18 until Millwall away on February 10. That was under Sir Alex Ferguson. He survived and so could Ten Hag. I don’t think that any definite decision has been made on him as it had on Van Gaal, Moyes or Mourinho, weeks or months before they went.

How do United get out of this?

There’s no easy answer. Getting players back as soon as possible will help and several are scheduled to return before the FA Cup final. The changes INEOS initiates should also start to make a difference, but excuse fans for being a little skeptical about it all.

They’ve lived this for over a decade now and they are tired of it — and of seeing rivals getting it right where it matters most: on the pitch.

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

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