The image that epitomized the excruciating humiliation Manchester United endured at the hands of Manchester City was the players’ fruitless expression of gratitude to hundreds of empty crimson seats.
If the previous season gave fans reason to believe that United, under Erik ten Hag’s leadership, was moving forward and winning a trophy after winning the Carabao Cup and qualifying for the Champions League, then this one is beginning to look like a swift and sad decline.
United and its supporters never like losing to Manchester City, but when it happens with the ease of their opponents’ 3-0 victory at Old Trafford, it makes the distance between these two rivals even more apparent and exacerbates the pain.
When Phil Foden tapped in City’s third ten minutes from time, Erling Haaland the provider after scoring the first two goals, the rush for the exits demonstrated that United’s fans had seen enough. Those who remained at least had the consolation of probably beating the worst of the traffic.
Old Trafford was sparsely populated when referee Paul Tierney sounded his final whistle, apart from the noise from joyous City fans in one corner revelling in heaping scorn on Ten Hag and his players.
When United’s horrific show came to an end, Ten Hag, Harry Maguire, and Tierney were undoubtedly discussing City’s first-half penalty call when Rasmus Hojlund fouled Rodri. However, following what happened at Old Trafford, their complaints sounded incredibly baseless.
The morning began with a moving remembrance of the late Sir Bobby Charlton, with a massive mosaic dedicated to his memory being placed atop the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
What happened next was an infuriating display of how much better City is than United. These are troubling times for Ten Hag and Manchester United after those encouraging indicators from the previous season, which included a Premier League victory at Old Trafford against City.
It is difficult to understand Ten Hag’s strategy. At the moment, United lacks both a structure and an identity. Last season, he was given credit when it was due, but he is currently under scrutiny for both in-game management and transfer policy.
Here, he neglected to solve a clear overload on United’s right side, which allowed City to severely expose Diogo Dalot and cause catastrophic damage.
Growing discontent was also seen among United’s supporters, who were naturally annoyed by how easily City moved the ball and their opponents around in addition to their own players’ lack of urgency and effort.
When youthful striker Hojlund was substituted by Alejandro Garnacho 17 minutes from time, the home audience let it be known through loud jeers, at least acknowledging the Dane’s relentless effort.
Some were so upset by this that they were shouting towards the directors’ box, thinking that seeing Manchester City would inspire United to take action. Rather, they had to put up with Pep Guardiola’s team taking total command.
This was as one-sided as it gets, save for brief intervals when Ederson denied Scott McTominay and the disappointing Marcus Rashford missed a fantastic opportunity. United was taken aback by the scoreline, and it seemed like City had multiple gears ready for any situation.
Although United had run out of ideas well in advance of the finish, it was actually hard to tell what their original intention was.
Amid these struggles, Ten Hag’s work in the transfer market will also be scrutinized. Sofyan Amrabat was far off the pace and was substituted at halftime after receiving a booking, while Mason Mount struggled in what has turned into a shaky start to his United career after joining for £55 million from Chelsea.
In addition, Ten Hag was the driving force for Bruno Fernandes United’s captaincy. His primary contribution in this regard was his persistent grumbling and whining, which ultimately resulted in a yellow card.
Midfield was where United struggled, and although Jonny Evans, the defender, shouldn’t be singled out, it should be recalled that he hasn’t started a home Manchester derby since October 2011, when City defeated United 6-1 and he was sent off.
Due to injuries, United is without key defenders Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw, while veterans Raphael Varane and Casemiro are clearly showing their age. It’s just not been a good enough season.
Even though they still have plenty of time to make amends, they are now eight points behind Liverpool in fourth position and are having difficulty qualifying for the Champions League. On Wednesday at Old Trafford, United will play Newcastle United, the team they defeated in the previous season’s final, as they resume their League Cup defense.
Ten Hag would have wanted to see United advance this season—he has plenty of financial support for all the criticism directed at the Glazers—but the main issue is that they don’t appear to be moving ahead; rather, they appear to be regressing at an alarming rate.