Manchester United were humbled again on Wednesday, this time by Newcastle United. Erik ten Hag now appears closer than ever to losing his job.
Erik ten Hag was defiant as he faced the media on Wednesday night, referring to himself as a “fighter” and insisting he was “confident” he could turn Manchester United’s fortunes around.
But the fact of the matter is he’s now under pressure like never before at the club, with his latest comments coming after United were swept aside with consummate ease by Newcastle United at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup, the competition they won last season.
In the 3-0 defeat, which came just three days after losing by the same scoreline to Manchester City at Old Trafford, United looked brittle and toothless. Even taking into account the changes made to Ten Hag’s starting XI, it was yet another desperately underwhelming performance and result.
The grilling Ten Hag received in his post-match press conference on Wednesday was arguably the toughest of his time at the club, with questions asked about his future as becomes the latest United boss to struggle to step from Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow.
While it’s impossible to discuss Manchester United’s issues without referencing the uncertainty and general toxicity that feeds down from their far-from-ideal ownership situation, it’s also fair to say they’re once again falling well short of expectations after seeming to take steps in the right direction last season.
With that apparent false dawn now a mere distant memory, United face Fulham on Saturday with Ten Hag’s future gloomier than ever. Here are the stats that show just how bad things have got.
The Damning Numbers
● Brighton, Crystal Palace, Galatasaray, Manchester City and Newcastle – they’ve all beaten United at Old Trafford this season. It’s only the second time they’ve lost five of their first 10 home matches (all competitions) at the start of a season, last enduring such a pitiful run over 90 years ago in 1930-31.
● United are averaging 1.5 points per game this term in the top flight; that’s an all-time low for a single season in the Premier League.
● Having scored just 11 times in the Premier League and conceded 16, United’s goal difference after 10 matches is -5. This is their poorest goal difference at this stage of a season since it was also -5 in 1972-73. But it’s also worth noting that they’ve only ever had a lower goal difference once – at any stage of a season – in the Premier League, that being when they were on -6 three games into 2020-21.
● Only one Man Utd forward has registered at least one goal or assist in the Premier League. Marcus Rashford has one of each, whereas Alejandro Garnacho, Anthony Martial, Rasmus Højlund, Jadon Sancho and Antony haven’t managed a single goal involvement between them, with the six-game rolling-average expected goals graphic above highlighting how their opponents are creating higher-value opportunities.
● In fact, Antony – one of Ten Hag’s primary targets in his first transfer window at the club – has scored just one goal in his last 29 appearances after starting his United career with three in three.
● In the Opta supercomputer’s latest 10,000 season simulations, United finish in the top four just 2.5% of the time. That’s a huge drop from 63.2% in the simulations before the start of the season, when the prediction model suggested their most-likely finishing position was fourth; it now says eighth is their likeliest final place.
● Wednesday’s loss to Newcastle was United’s eighth defeat of the season across all competitions, from 15 games overall; it’s the first time they’ve lost as many as eight in their first 15 games of a campaign in 61 years (9 of 15 in 1962-63).
● The defeat to Eddie Howe’s side also consigned United to back-to-back home losses by three or more goals. Again, it was the first time this has occurred for the club in 61 years, with United suffering similar disappointment in October 1962.
● Sunday’s derby defeat was their fifth loss in the Premier League already in 2023-24; this is their most in the opening 10 games of a league campaign since 1986-87 (six). That run in 1986 coincided with the dismissal of Ron Atkinson on 4 November and the arrival of Ferguson. The rest, as they say…
Is There Any Way Back for Ten Hag?
United have often talked a good game about giving managers time since Ferguson retired in 2013, and you can understand why they’d feel passionately about that given their legendary former manager was in charge for 26 years after overcoming his own early difficulties.
And, although David Moyes didn’t manage to see out a full year after succeeding Ferguson, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were all given at least two seasons at the helm, rightly or wrongly.
Furthermore, Ten Hag still boasts a win rate (63.2% – all competitions) that’s better than any of the aforementioned managers, including Ferguson (59.7%). Of course, his record comes from far fewer matches, and last season’s Europa League campaign against poorer opposition will have helped boost his numbers, but it’s a metric he could point to nonetheless if searching for reasons to be positive.
United also have, according to the Opta Power Rankings, one of the easiest upcoming runs of five fixtures in the Premier League, with Fulham (A), Luton (H), Everton (A), Newcastle (A) and Chelsea (H).
But it feels like we’ve been here before. We suggested in September that United had a good opportunity to build a head of steam after Ten Hag called the victory at Burnley a “must-win” game, but in reality there’s been little improvement.
And while it’s possible to find positive angles to the manager’s record, none of it distracts from the drop-off post-Ferguson, and Ten Hag is looking increasingly close to being the latest manager chucked onto the Glazers’ dumpster fire.