Why the next two weeks that could define Erik ten Hag's season

Why the next two weeks could define Man United’s season: Erik ten Hag’s team could be OUT of the Champions League and top four race by the time they play Liverpool… five years since Jose Mourinho’s reign ended at Anfield

  • Manchester United were dismal in their 1-0 defeat against Newcastle 
  • Erik ten Hag’s side have already lost a meagre six times in the Premier League 
  • Manchester United have snakes in their dressing room, players who are not running. Bruce, Robson, Keane would never allow this – It’s All Kicking Off 

If it’s true that history repeats itself first as a tragedy then as a farce, Erik ten Hag will have even more reason to be concerned ahead of Manchester United’s upcoming trip to Anfield in two weeks.

United travel to Merseyside on December 17, almost exactly five years to the day since they lost away to Liverpool in Jose Mourinho’s final game in charge.

The Portuguese was relieved of his duties on December 18, 2018 following a 3-1 defeat at Anfield two days earlier that left United sixth on the table, 19 points behind then-league leaders Liverpool.

There are only seven points between the two sides now, but the gulf between them feels as wide as it did when Mourinho was sacked four years ago.

While Ten Hag’s future isn’t in immediate danger, the trip down the East Lancs Road could hardly come at a worse time for United who face yet another potentially season-defining spell.

Erik ten Hag faces a potentially season-defining two weeks between now and December 17

United’s dismal defeat against Newcastle on Saturday left them seventh in the Premier League

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The 1-0 against Newcastle at St James’ Park on Saturday night ended a three-game winning run in the Premier League and left ten Hag’s men marooned in seventh place.

If the result was disappointing, the manner of the defeat was borderline inexcusable. United never looked at the races against Newcastle and several pundits, from Paul Scholes to Roy Keane and from Jamie Carragher to Alan Shearer, questioned the lack of effort from a number of players.

‘Rubbish,’ was Scholes’s opinion for Premier League Productions. ‘There are too many lazy players.’

Speaking on The Rest is Football podcast, Shearer suggested the manner of the defeat spoke volumes for the attitude of some United players.

‘I thought they were a mess, I thought they were terrible,’ he said.

‘I thought there were three or four players yesterday who were not prepared to roll their sleeves up and gave up far too easily and didn’t want to fight.’ 

United are back in familiar territory, where the progress shown in a convincing win is swiftly erased by a dismal performance in defeat and a potentially season-defining run looms large over the horizon. 

If there’s a silver lining to be found following their meek surrender against Newcastle is that ten Hag’s men can immediately respond when they host Chelsea on Wednesday night.

The days when this fixture decided the destination of the Premier League trophy are a distant memory, with Chelsea currently 10th on the table and five points adrift of United. 

United return to Anfield in two weeks for the first time since they lost 7-0 there in March

Only a week after winning the Carabao Cup, United were dismantled by Liverpool

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United reign came crashing to an end with a 3-1 defeat at Anfield on December 16, 2018 almost exactly five years to the date of this season’s fixture

The Blues haven’t won at Old Trafford in a decade and have looked every bit as erratic as their rivals, with any sign of progress under Mauricio Pochettino quickly followed by unexpected setbacks.

Worryingly for ten Hag, however, Chelsea have looked at their best against big teams this season holding Arsenal, Liverpool and City to draws and stopping Tottenham’s unbeaten start to the season.

Bournemouth’s visit to Old Trafford three days later should in theory present United’s dormant attack with the chance to find some form. 

The Cherries have conceded 30 goals so far this season, the worst return in the Premier League behind Sheffield United and Burnley and have shipped six against Manchester City and four against Arsenal.

But after a slow start, Andoni Iraola’s men have found some form and have won 10 points out of a possible 15 in the last five matches. United’s laboured one-goal wins against Sheffield United, Fulham and Luton paint the picture of a side struggling to put away clubs in the bottom half of the table.

The last fixture of a three-game stand at Old Trafford is arguably the most crucial of all, as United welcome Bayern Munich on December 12 with their Champions League destiny on the line and out of their hands.

United must beat Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on December 12 to retain any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League – with a draw needed elsewhere

Harry Kane scored from the penalty spot as Bayern beat United 4-3 back in September 

United’s destiny is out of their hands after they relinquished two-goal leads away against Copenhagen and Galatasaray last week (above)

United are bottom of Group A with four points in five games and must beat Bayern, who have already qualified as group winners, to retain any hope of reaching the knockout stages, 

Crucially, they also need Copenhagen to draw at home against Galatasaray to progress. 

Failure to progress from a relatively easy group would be a tough to pill to swallow for United, particularly as they would only have themselves to blame.

United have scored nine goals in three away games in the Champions League but have only one point to show for it and relinquished two-goal leads in both Copenhagen and Istanbul.

With their Champions League fate decided, the focus will then switch to the fixture against Liverpool.

United have lost their last four Premier League meetings against their arch-rivals by an aggregate score of 17-2 and were shellacked 7-0 on their last visit to Anfield.

Another heavy defeat on Merseyside and there could be precious little for ten Hag to celebrate at Christmas.

Ahead of the trip to Newcastle, the Dutchman insisted United were the form team in the league from a statistical standpoint. 

But a different set of numbers paint an altogether far more grim picture for ten Hag. 

At the time of writing, United are nine points behind league leaders Arsenal and five behind fourth-placed Aston Villa. 

Ten Hag is struggling to get a tune out of a number of performers, such as Anthony Martial

United have lost 10 times in 11 away matches against top nine oppositions under ten Hag, with their only point coming when they drew 2-2 at Tottenham last season (pictured above)

They have already lost six times Premier League this season and have the worst goal difference of any team in the top-half of the table.

They have not won away against a team in the top nine in the Premier League in 11 attempts under ten Hag, losing 10 times in the process – a record so dismal that Roy Keane did not believe it was real.

Bar a drastic reversal in fortunes, that is unlikely to change at Anfield.

Ten Hag must hope history will not repeat itself, neither as tragedy nor as farce.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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