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How Erik ten Hag turned Manchester United’s head after Liverpool humiliation at Anfield



Erik ten Hag was furious with his side’s ‘unprofessional’ performance after Liverpool handed them a 7-0 humiliation that equaled Man Utd’s heaviest defeat. United left Anfield in shameful silence – their response must be strong against Real Betis then Southampton

Erik ten Hag is “alarmed” by Manchester United’s embarrassing surrender to Liverpool and will not let fatigue be an excuse, writes Melissa Reddy.

There was just a small pause in silence as Manchester United players strolled in footballing shame from the visitors’ dressing room at Anfield to their team manager.

In response to the request to stop and go forward in the mixed zone, Bruno Fernandes said he had already done so live on Sky Sports. What can you say after being embarrassed by your biggest rivals in the club’s worst defeat since Boxing Day 1931?

While the reporters instead wanted the visiting team to raise their hands properly, Erik ten Hag didn’t want to hear from them. For the manager there were no words that could calm the reality that, after being competitive for 43 minutes, United threw in the towel with just ’50 on the clock. Publicly, the descriptions he circled were “really unprofessional” and “unacceptable.”

The message he shared with the team was infused with more colorful language that can’t be repeated, translating to “a disgrace”.

Ten Hag won’t let United’s weary history sink in. In the two training sessions that followed their late and demanding victory over West Ham, Manchester United missed the pits, which was worrying.

Efforts to oust Barcelona to progress in Europe, set Leicester City on fire, secure a first trophy under Erik ten Hag at Newcastle’s expense and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals had made that clear: 21 games in 75 days with a poor team is not ideal.

But success is challenging and while fatigue may explain a lapse in intensity or concentration, it doesn’t mitigate the betrayal of doing the groundwork, leading Ten Hag to describe this as “obviously” an “unprofessional” performance. Ten Hag was “alarmed” by United’s capitulation after the break, especially given the team’s positive half-time talk. He stood almost still for the last 15 minutes to ‘analyze my team’s performance, what is their approach, what is their character, their mentality, how they deal with setbacks, I look at their body language’.

The manager played down his irritation to concede at such a critical stage of match management – Andy Robertson and Cody Gakpo combined brilliantly in the opener with half time in sight – and instead highlighted everything his side had accomplished.

The game had to be won and Ten Hag convinced his players that they could be the winners. He pointed out that United’s initial attack forced an intervention from Alisson, who deflected Antony’s attempt around the post. Bruno Fernandes should have deflected his header better from Diogo Dalot’s delivery and Marcus Rashford had uncharacteristically fired a shot on Luke Shaw’s serve. United absorbed the pressure and monopoly of possession from Liverpool and threatened if they stole the ball.

Ten Hag admitted he couldn’t properly explain what happened when the teams returned to the pitch and, as one player’s agent put it, “United lost their minds, their legs and cajones”.

In seven minutes, the League Cup winners went from a good position in the game to a 7-0 correction. Ten Hag’s concern was not just the speed of surrender, but the manner. After focusing so much on recruiting and retaining the right people at United and on cultivating the culture of collective responsibility, he was stunned when the veteran professionals – the benchmarks – quit.

Before the game, Ten Hag even commented that the hostile environments get the most out of his group because “we have many leaders who set the mentality, who set the standards, who control the standards, who correct if necessary”.

These leaders did not come out of the locker room in the second half. There is no cure for the manager, the technical staff or the performance analysts who have to go through the whole game again to prepare for a video session with the players.

They will be forced to shed their hoodies, hold their heads high and face a non-performance of historic proportions.

There might be the slightest consolation in the Anfield factor. United are not isolated from being gobbled up and spat on the ground – ask Barcelona and Manchester City.

In 2019, Pep Guardiola clarified: The motto “This is Anfield” is not a marketing pirouette. It has something you won’t find in any other stadium in the world. They score a goal and in the next five minutes you feel like you have four more. You feel small and the rival players seem to be above everything.”

Ten Hag’s comment that Anfield “is no different” and that “its players like to play in such atmospheres” felt like a skit during the second half. That’s not even taking into account the fact that United have not won at Anfield since 2016, scoring once in their last eight away games.

Sunday’s defeat is the third time this season that United have conceded four goals or more. After being humiliated by Brentford in August and City in the derby in October, Ten Hag’s men won their next league game on both occasions.

“I know this team will recover and we need to bounce back and we’ve shown in the past that we can,” he said.

“If you do the right things as a coach and as a team, if you respond with the right measures, you can learn a lot from this and strengthen your mentality.”

United left Anfield in eerie silence. Their response must be strong against Real Betis and then Southampton.

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