Man Utd 2-3 Galatasaray: Erik ten Hag faces more questions as he hopes to buck the trend

Erik ten Hag

For Erik ten Hag, there was a worrying familiarity in the unwanted statistics that came out after the final whistle of his side’s 3-2 defeat by Galatasaray at Old Trafford.

Manchester United have opened a Champions League campaign with consecutive defeats for the first time.

United have lost six of their 10 matches in all competitions this season. They have also conceded 18 goals in 10 games in all competitions in 2023-24, their most at this stage since 1966-67.

Statistics can be haunting at times like this.

For David Moyes, it was losing at home to Everton for the first time in 21 years followed by home defeat to Newcastle for the first time in 41.

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool was an unwanted record.

For Louis van Gaal, 2015-16 was United’s joint lowest number of Premier League wins and fewest goals scored.

When Jose Mourinho presided over a 3-0 Old Trafford defeat by Tottenham in 2018, it was the heaviest home loss of his career.

But Ten Hag’s own words are damning as well.

“Our start to the season has not been good enough,” he said in his programme notes – even before Tuesday’s defeat. “Although there are reasons, we will not attempt to hide behind excuses. It is up to us to now to turn our fortunes around. What happens next is up to us and nobody else.”

The problem at United in recent times is what happens next, not necessarily next week, or even next month, is when a spiral like this starts it tends to end up tossing the manager out of the door.

United struggles a bolt from the blue

Very much like Solskjaer two seasons ago, where United find themselves – mid-table in the Premier League with nine points from seven games, bottom of a Champions League group that also includes Copenhagen – is a shock because no-one saw it coming.

As with Solskjaer, Ten Hag went into the summer on the back of a promising campaign. Unlike the Norwegian, he also won a trophy.

There is similarity in the transfer business. Just as United patted themselves on the back by bringing in Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo two years ago, they have done so this season with the arrivals of Andre Onana, Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund.

For Solskjaer it didn’t start to go wrong until the end of September. This campaign nosedived virtually from the moment it started.

A lucky win against Wolves on the opening weekend and a stirring comeback against Nottingham Forest at home, plus a narrow away triumph at Burnley, do not balance out damaging defeats by Tottenham, Arsenal, Brighton and Bayern Munich, even before we reached the past four days.

The more things change at United it feels, the more they stay the same. Antipathy towards the Glazer ownership continues in the form of in-match chanting against the Americans and social media abuse. Players are lambasted. Even the notoriously leaky Old Trafford roof remains.

The big question is can Ten Hag buck the trend? Can the Dutchman, who enjoyed such success at Ajax before quitting to become Solskjaer’s permanent successor, be the man to find the answers beyond those he followed?

He thinks so.

“Last season went brilliant, more than we could expect,” he said. “But also in this project we knew there would be gaps.

“We are in a very difficult period but we come out together. We fight together and stick together, that is me, the directors, the team. Altogether we will fight.

“This is not us. We know we will do better.”

The big issues

The problem for Ten Hag at the moment is twofold. The Dutchman has been affected badly by injuries and absences.

He lost both left-backs, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia, to long-term injuries. His last-minute replacement, Sergio Reguilon, is also sidelined, meaning Sofyan Amrabat is being used at left-back when the Moroccan is desperately needed in central midfield, where the presence of teenager Kobbie Mainoo has also been denied to Ten Hag due to injury.

Lisandro Martinez is out for up to three months with a broken foot, which means United are weaker in the heart of their defence and are not able to give goalkeeper Andre Onana the passing options envisaged.

And then there is the Sancho stand-off, which shows no sign of resolution, and the board level decisions taken around Antony over the short-term and Mason Greenwood over the long.

But there also questions for the coach to answer.

He was the one who pushed for Antony last summer. United delivered but the £82m spent on the Brazilian meant purse strings were tightened 12 months on to keep the club within Financial Fair Play restrictions.

This summer, David de Gea was ditched due to Ten Hag’s demand for a ball-playing goalkeeper.

Onana cost £47.2m. The Cameroon international certainly arrived from Inter Milan with plenty of confidence. But his mistakes are piling up. His aberration in gifting Dries Mertens possession close to the United box ended up costing his side the services of Casemiro, who was sent off after getting a second booking trying to retrieve a desperate situation.

Although United survived the penalty that followed, the reprieve was brief.

“Andre was in one semi-final of the Champions League [with Ajax], last season he was in the final [with Inter], so he has capabilities to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” said Ten Hag. “He has shown that.

“We have already seen in games his great capabilities and also his personality. He will bounce back.”

Manchester United's Sofyan Amrabat looks dejected after a Galatasaray goal

‘I am responsible’

It is not just Onana who has to bounce back. As Ten Hag says, United as a collective need to find solutions to salvage their season before it’s too late.

Although they were booed off, just as they were after the defeat by Crystal Palace on Saturday, it was a reaction to the result rather than disenchantment with the manager.

That sentiment will only last so long. Brentford arrive at Old Trafford on Saturday with only one win all season and one point from their last three games.

“Yes I can understand,” said Ten Hag, when asked about the crowd reaction. “Together with my squad, I am responsible for this team, the performance, the result and together with my squad, we don’t get the results.

“We have to do better. But I have seen a team with great spirit and also a team that was backed by a crowd from the start to the end.

“We are very disappointed. That is fuel.”

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