“As I said, the minute they play a proper team this is what is going to happen. Half-decent teams are scoring goals against them; proper teams will beat them.”
Those were the words that escaped Gary Neville’s lips on the gantry as Mohamed Salah celebrated his second and Liverpool’s fourth goal in their 5-0 win at Old Trafford back in October. It was the second time in eight days that Manchester United had conceded four goals in a game, following their 4-2 drubbing at Leicester City just over a week earlier, and there was still another 45 minutes left to play.
Salah, of course, sealed his hat-trick five minutes into the second half to complete the demolition job, condemning United to their joint-worst Premier League home defeat and one of the darkest days in their history. Since that harrowing afternoon, United have conceded four goals in a game on two further occasions, the latest coming in Sunday’s derby defeat to Manchester City.
READ MORE: Manchester United failure is about to hit the Glazers where it most hurts
After being competitive and sprightly in the first half, United crumbled in the second. Riyad Mahrez was gifted the freedom of Manchester to net his first of the afternoon, before adding a second late on to grab City’s fourth.
The question is: will Sunday’s 4-1 hammering be the last of United’s heavy defeats this season? With a trip to Anfield to come and Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur due Old Trafford visits before the season is out, there’s every chance it won’t be.
In a season that was supposed to have seen United return towards the top step of English football’s podium, the club has experienced that many embarrassing afternoons that their end-of-season highlights package risks being ignored by those who love to watch them most. The club spent north of £ 120million on new talent last summer, signing a world-class center-back in Raphael Varane, one of the most exciting and promising players in the world in Jadon Sancho and, to top it off, they re-signed Cristiano Ronaldo.
The fact that they now face the possibility of missing out on a top-four finish is, quite frankly, unbelievable. A squad of this talent should not be in this position, especially when its competitors, such as Arsenal and Tottenham, have struggled for consistency and momentum as much as they have.
To make matters even worse, United, unless they produce a miracle and defy the odds in the Champions League, are going to end the season without a trophy, after bowing out of both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup early doors. They limped out of the latter, losing 1-0 to West Ham United, and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Middlesbrough.
With respect, they were catastrophic results for United, adding yet more woes to their collection. They should have won both ties with ease.
The 2013/14 season – the first of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era – will be remembered as one of United’s worst in recent memory, and considering they finished seventh in the Premier League and without a trophy to their name, this season runs the risk of being even worse. Like in that season, which was guided by David Moyes, United currently find themselves 22 points behind City – a gap that is only going to widen as the weeks pass by, one would think.
This time around, however, United boast a much better squad, even if debate rumbles on about the manager situation. Players of Harry Maguire’s, Paul Pogba’s, Bruno Fernandes’, Marcus Rashford’s, Varane’s, Sancho’s and Ronaldo’s talents, whilst playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, should not be having to worry about not securing Champions League football for the following season .
It should not even be a bare minimum expectation. In 2013/14 it was different; United had come out of a 26-year relationship with Ferguson and a drop-off in standards was to be expected. But they still managed to avoid conceding four goals or more on four separate occasions.
READ MORE: Gary Neville is right about the next Manchester United manager
READ MORE: Rio Ferdinand names the one Manchester United player he would ‘go to war with’ after derby defeat
For comparison, that happened just once under Moyes and it was, ironically, a 4-1 defeat at the Etihad. Still, United have conceded just five goals less in the Premier League so far this season than they shipped in the whole of the 2013/14 campaign. That is alarming.
Therefore, almost nine years on since the beginning of United’s most dismal season of the Premier League era, they risk going one better this time around. The prospect of missing out on Champions League football, or even the Europa League or Europa Conference League, will have dramatic consequences, not least in increasing the size of the challenge for Ralf Rangnick’s replacement.
United risk coming full circle again from the Moyes season and the consequences could be even greater. This should not have been allowed to happen.
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.
Catch up on all the latest United headlines in our United section.