The statistics make dark reading for Manchester United fans. They suffered their biggest-ever loss in Premier League history and their joint-biggest loss in a competitive fixture, and the three other times that they had lost by the same scoreline had all been before the Second World War.
To make matters worse, the team they lost to a side, that, for many United fans, they consider their bitterest rivals, Liverpool.
Just a week after beating Newcastle United to win the League Cup, their first silverware since 2017, and the first under the management of Erik ten Hag, United were humiliated at Anfield by Liverpool 7 – 0.
The pre-game narrative
The pre-game narrative though was how about United were the team on the up and Liverpool seemingly in decline. Not only had United won the League Cup, but they were still in three competitions, and still had ambitions of being involved in the title race. Liverpool, by contrast had struggled, had not been in the top four all season, and, after being thrashed by Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 fixture, their won hopes of silverware for this season were all but over.
United began with the same XI that started the League Cup final, but with several tactical tweaks. Captain Bruno Fernandes started on the left, whilst central striker Wout Weghorst was played behind Marcus Rashford who was deployed in the middle.
The First Half
For much of the first half it was an even game, and United had the better chances, most notably when Fernandes steered his diving header to the wrong side of the post. At the other end, the Liverpool forwards were struggling to get much joy from the United central defensive partnership of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martínez, and the match seemed destined to reach half-time goalless.
That was before Cody Gakpo received the ball on the left, cut inside and found the bottom of David de Gea’s net with a low shot.
Second Half Capitulation
The interval offered ten Hag a chance to make a few tweaks and provide a pep talk, but, whatever plans he had devised for a comeback were in tatters within five minutes of the restart as first Darwin Nuñez and then Gakpo again added to the scoreline.
It is arguably what happened next that should alarm United fans and ten Hag. Rather than staying solid, accepting the defeat and regrouping, some of their players allowed their head to drop, and their discipline. The referee did his best to keep a grip on the game, but, on another day, might have been tempted to reach for a red card.
The watching Sir Alex Ferguson in the stands could only glower, and it was hard to escape the conclusion that had they been playing under him, it might have been the last game for some of them in a United shirt.
Fernandes a ‘disgrace”
One player who came in for particular criticism was United’s captain Fernandes, with Gary Neville, former player turned commentator labelling his performance a “disgrace.” His body language is never his strongest suit in any match, but in this game, he seemed to set the lead, giving up when it came to chasing back, and gesturing to the bench asking to be taken off.
When United needed somebody to stand up and take responsibility, he went missing in action.
In mitigation, United might point to the fact that Liverpool had only eight shots on target, and seven of them resulted in goals. However, for neutral observers at least, this was not even a vintage Liverpool performance. Until the first goal, they had struggled to create anything of note, and there had been one or two lapses at the back. This is still a team in transition, and in need of new blood, especially in midfield.
Who was to blame?
Ten Hag must take his share of the blame for how he set up the team, and especially for how he failed to get the best out of Marcus Rashford. The England forward has been in sparkling form this season, with 25 goals in all competitions, but he hardly got a kick all afternoon.
The Dutchman may also be criticised for starting with Diego Dalot at right-back over Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who is the better defender.
However, whilst a degree of culpability attaches to the manager, the lion’s share of responsibility belongs to the players.
For many United fans, games against Liverpool are the most important in any season, and they demand that the team approach them with the utmost seriousness. To see some of the team virtually give up in the second half was not only worrying, but also unacceptable.
It will take some time for the scars to heal.
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