Erik ten Hag says Manchester United is on the way up. The Premier League table tells a different story.
It must be tough for the United manager to come up with fresh explanations for his team’s ever-worsening form. But after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester City the pressure is mounting on him to provide a solution and turn United’s season around.
“It hurts a lot,” he said. “Now you have to deal with it. Accept it, how it is, and, in 24 hours, you have to get up and go for the next game.”
That next game is against Newcastle in the League Cup on Wednesday. It is a repeat of last season’s final, which United won as Ten Hag ended the club’s six-year wait for a trophy and delivered silverware in his first year in charge.
Those were happier times for the Dutch coach, who enjoyed an impressive first season, which also included Champions League qualification and a second final – the FA Cup, which United lost against City.
Now Ten Hag, who was hired after leading Ajax to three Dutch league titles, faces a fight to stop United’s campaign from unravelling after a miserable start.
The numbers do not make for good reading.
United has lost five of its 10 league games, which is the most defeats the club has suffered at this stage of a campaign since 1986.
In a season when Ten Hag was supposed to mount a title challenge, his team is already 11 points off the leader, Tottenham, and eight adrift of Champions League qualification.
Erling Haaland’s two goals on Sunday, made it 11 in the league for the Norway striker this term, which is the same as the entire United team has managed so far.
Rasmus Hojlund, an $82 million signing in the offseason, is yet to score in the league after seven games. While United fans jeered as the Dane was substituted against City, those boos were in response to Ten Hag’s decision to take him off, rather than any dissatisfaction with the striker.
That is just another problem for the manager, who is having to listen to jeers from his own fans with increasing regularity.
He says he understands their frustration and there is still the sense that he has their backing. But he is the latest manager to struggle under the weight of expectation at a club that has been in decline since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Ten Hag is the fifth permanent appointment since then, following in the footsteps of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. MDT/AP