Man United in crisis: transfers, tactics and takeover helped lead up to 4-0 humiliation at Palace

Tue, May 7, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Man United in crisis: transfers, tactics and takeover helped lead up to 4-0 humiliation at Palace

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - A bad season just keeps on getting worse for Manchester United.

The 20-time English champion was routed 4-0 by Crystal Palace on Monday and faces the prospect of its lowest finish in the Premier League era, as well as a season without European soccer.

Champions League qualification was already beyond Erik ten Hag's troubled team before its latest defeat. Now, sitting eighth in the standings, even the third-tier Conference League could end up out of reach.

On current form, United might need to beat Manchester City in this month's FA Cup final to secure a place in the Europa League. On current form, there is little chance of that happening.

One of the world's most storied clubs is in a mess and the humiliation at the hands of Palace was the latest evidence of that.

A record of 13 league defeats is the most United has suffered in a Premier League campaign. In all competitions that number rises to 18, including four losses in six games as United crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Ten Hag's team has conceded 81 goals in all competitions, which is the most since 1976-77.

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According to stats company Opta, United has also spent more time in a losing position in league games this season than a winning one.

Its only win in its last seven league games was against last-placed Sheffield United.

United's lowest finish in the Premier League era - which it long dominated, winning 13 titles under former manager Alex Ferguson - was seventh under David Moyes in 2013-14.

Here are some of the reasons behind United's fall this season.

INJURIES

United's substitutes' bench against Palace included six teenagers and two goalkeepers, such is the level of the injury crisis which has gripped Ten Hag's team. Jonny Evans, the veteran 36-year-old center back, was rushed back from injury to cover for the absent Harry Maguire and midfielder Casemiro had to play as a makeshift defender.

It has been the story of United's season with key players ruled out for long periods, including Luke Shaw, Lisandro Martinez, Mason Mount, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Rasmus Hojlund and Marcus Rashford.

Yet United is not the only team to suffer from injuries, with Liverpool and Newcastle also seeing their squads decimated by absences.

Even Ten Hag accepted there was no excuse for Monday's performance.

"The players who were available should do better. It's a deserved defeat," he said.

TACTICS

Last season United had one of the meanest defenses in the Premier League, with only treble-winning City and Newcastle conceding fewer goals.

It's been a very different story in Ten Hag's second season in charge, with the openness of his team a consistent problem.

To compound the issue, United has found goals hard to come by at the other end of the field. A total of 52 scored is the joint lowest in the top half of the standings, level with 10th-place Bournemouth. Luton - which is in the relegation zone - has scored 49.

United is too open in midfield, too fragile in defense and not potent enough in attack. And it falls on Ten Hag to come up with the solutions.

TRANSFERS

United's recruitment record simply hasn't been good enough since Ferguson retired in 2013, with the club spending billions of dollars on players who have failed to live up to their reputations.

Ten Hag cannot be held responsible for what went before him, but there are question marks over the players signed on his watch.

The $95 million spent on Antony has not provided the sort of return fans would have expected, with the Brazil winger struggling to adapt to the English topflight.

Casemiro, who looked out of his depth at Palace - albeit out of position in defense - appears to be past his best at 32 and a shadow of the player who dominated midfield for Real Madrid.

Mount and Martinez have both been injury prone, while goalkeeper Andre Onana has made a slew of costly blunders.

After two summer windows, Ten Hag's signings haven't been able to lift the level of the squad significantly.

SQUAD QUALITY

It has been reported that United is willing to listen to offers for the majority of its players in the offseason, with notable exceptions including Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho.

That speaks volumes about the changes required to transform the squad and the tight financial restraints on the club if it is to operate within the Premier League's profit and sustainability rules.

With defender Raphael Varane and forward Anthony Martial out of contract at the end of the season, there will be two key areas United needs to strengthen in, even before sales.

OWNERSHIP UPHEAVAL

Ten Hag has been left in limbo while new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe completed his minority investment.

For much of his time in charge, he has been uncertain about who he would ultimately answer to, with the Glazer family listening to offers to sell the club and British billionaire Ratcliffe competing with Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani over a buyout.

It was anticipated that a deal would be concluded in time for last year's summer transfer window when United was on the back of a third-place finish in the league and success in the English League Cup.

Instead the wait went on until Ratcliffe eventually secured what will be a 27.7% minority stake and assumed control of soccer operations.

Off the field, changes have been happening at pace with new directors, a new chief executive and technical director hired. Newcastle's Dan Ashworth is wanted as sporting director, while former football director John Murtough, who worked closely with Ten Hag, has departed.

In other words there has been a lot of upheaval behind the scenes, which has coincided with the team's alarming slump on the field.

New technical director Jason Wilcox has been assessing United's operations since assuming his role last month. In that time he has seen his new club blow a 3-0 lead and need penalties to beat second tier Coventry in the FA Cup semifinals, draw at home against relegation struggler Burnley and get routed by Palace.

The only win he has seen in regulation time was at home to Sheffield United after twice going behind to a team that was relegated later that week.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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