Erik ten Hag has to get over recent history as Man United’s flimsy rebuild is exposed by Erling Haaland

They all tried to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson but David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick never quite succeeded. Until Erik ten Hag did. Admittedly not by winning two Champions Leagues and 13 Premier Leagues, but by reviving memories of the worst result of Ferguson’s 1,500-game reign. His Manchester United, like Ferguson’s, conceded six goals in a Manchester derby.

Go back to 2011 and there was a palpable sense of shock at the gate stand. Now? Slight surprise maybe.

Manchester United had won their four previous games. They had claimed the scalps of Liverpool and Arsenal. But if this was a show from City and an embarrassment for United, if it was 6-3 instead of 6-1, Anthony Martial’s late brace wasn’t the reason there was now a greater sense of normality.

This is United now. They can be steeped in signings worth £200million but they’re used to humiliation scarred by shameful displays. More broadly, it wasn’t even the worst result of Ten Hag’s short tenure. That was a 4-0 loss to Brentford.

It wasn’t the first time this season that they conceded four goals in the first half; in fact, it was the fourth time in less than two years. Managers change, players move up and down and the expensive signings are coming, but some things remain the same: United can be hammered. There are results that are both historic and familiar, games that sum up the void of post-Ferguson United.

Ferguson, the master of the ruse, should have known better and declined the invitation. There was something predictable about the way this happened and not just the treble meant Erling Haaland already has as many Premier League hat-tricks as Cristiano Ronaldo.

Manchester clubs have made flashy flagship signings in consecutive summers, United have struggled with a plummeting grandmaster with huge wages, City may have braced themselves for a second decade of dominance in Greater Manchester and perhaps well beyond.

For Erik ten Hag, who had argued that United were playing City and not Haaland, came the uncomfortable realization that they couldn’t deal with either; neither with the scoring machine nor with the array of changing, inventive attacking midfielders Pep Guardiola has assembled with the kind of planning United have dispensed with.

Ten years ago Ferguson named Guardiola his successor at a dinner in New York; The Catalan later joked that his inability to understand the Glasgow accent meant he didn’t know if he was offered the job. He remains the last United manager to finish above City. For ten Hag, this was a warning that the gap could widen again to 35 points.

His renaissance was accompanied by defeats, his winning streak was pinched by blows. If he is to prove his revival was not built on sand, he must do something neither Moyes nor Rangnick could and recover from an evisceration at the Etihad.

Certainly some of his plans seemed to be in shambles. Tyrell Malacia, one of his signings, was substituted at half-time after failing to stop Phil Foden, the second City player to score a hat-trick. Next to him, Lisandro Martinez’s size wasn’t the issue: even when Haaland scored a header, it was Scott McTominay he passed. But he anchored a defense that was breached six times. Raphael Varane limped away at 3-0; That injury saved Harry Maguire an outing and felt like a gracious release, so Victor Lindelof was found horribly wanting instead. Diogo Dalot was booked within 100 seconds and his afternoon didn’t get much better.

And yet the biggest troubles may have come before him. There was a gap where United needed a midfield. It has been United’s biggest problem since Paul Scholes began his decline and Scholes will soon be 48.

It was a game that called for a world-class defensive midfielder; maybe even a four-time Champions League winner worth £70m. Casemiro was called in late to limit the damage after 59 minutes. He couldn’t, and two more goals soon followed.

United’s reliance on individuals meant it would have been a difficult task for one man to stop the swarms of attackers in Sky Blue, combining relentlessness with dodging in a display of rampant superiority. United, on the other hand, was deliberately weakened.

Maybe it was misplaced loyalty to a side that had won four games in a row or tenacity as a manager, but he should have started. There are suspicions that Casemiro is not ten Hag’s choice; he is not Frenkie de Jong or a de Jong clone, more destructive than constructive.

In his absence, McTominay made a heroic block after three minutes and prevented a Bernardo Silva goal, but it was not to be an epic retreat. McTominay gets in the way of things; perhaps he was an obstacle to United’s progress.

Erling Haaland celebrates his team’s fifth goal and third

(AFP via Getty Images)

In a midfield with Kevin de Bruyne, Silva and Ilkay Gundogan against Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes and McTominay, there were five exceptional manipulators of a football, players with technique and creativity, vision and cut.

There was also McTominay, the underdog who wholeheartedly denounced United’s failings. Eriksen was unfortunately too slow, Fernandes was booked for another demonstration of dissent.

Meanwhile, Ferguson frowned. Maybe he can empathize with ten Hag, but his nightmare in 2011 was unique. With his empire collapsing, so can United. As City fans chanted ‘we want 10’, the United manager could at least be thankful that part of his surname wasn’t found on the score.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/man-united-erik-ten-hag-erling-haaland-b2191036.html Erik ten Hag has to get over recent history as Man United’s flimsy rebuild is exposed by Erling Haaland

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