Three talking points from United’s chastening defeat against Liverpool

“It takes a young kid to come on to show them how to sprint and put a challenge in. I’m actually proud of him,” an impassioned Gary Neville said on Sky commentary, when speaking about Hannibal Mejbri’s brief cameo during Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of Manchester United.

A disjointed team in all but name who seem lost, confused, demotivated and out of any ideas. This may well be the lowest ebb that this historic club has fallen to.

Ten minutes to go the scene was stark, Liverpool’s buoyant, loud and proud reds were cheering their team on and loving their bitter rivals’ demise. A brief glance at the small clan of away fans would tell a different and a rather more sobering story. United fans filing for the exit with minutes to play against their biggest rivals, is a sad indictment of just how far this team and this club has fallen.

The reality was that not only were United fans cringing at the prospect of the biggest ever aggregate score difference between Liverpool and United in a single season, but the overwhelming sense of apathy from neutrals will hurt the most. For two decades, United and their enigmatic manager Sir Alex Ferguson were revered around the country, and United fans loved it.

Nowadays though, the club seem to be heading into an abyss of sympathy, which may well be worse than the on-field situation. The gulf in class between the two sides is as big as the distance in kilometres of these two great rivals, it was an ugly affair and one that typified the direction of travel that these juggernauts of the English game are going.

Manchester United needs a rebuild

A quick glance at United’s starting XI yesterday, would have caused a collective tut and an eye roll. There were players in the team, who have openly stated their intentions to leave, there are some players in the team who have made their intentions clear for a number of years about leaving. The reality is this team needs a mass clear out of epic proportions.

Jesse Lingard came on, he should’ve been gone two years ago,” an apoplectic Roy Keane said and it’s hard to disagree. Whilst Lingard came through the clubs famed youth academy, the reality is, Lingard is a square peg for a round hole. The failure of the decision makers to not sell the midfielder last summer, after his fantastic stint on loan at West Ham, was again another error that we can add to the growing catalogue over the last decade.

We should mention that there were major injuries tonight, so much so that Phil Jones, with only his second appearance since January 2020 deputised in the centre of a back three. The experiment failed miserably, with Jones substituted at half-time for Jadon Sancho. Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, who both seem destined to leave in the summer started, albeit Pogba was replaced early on due to injury.

“There will be a rebuild for sure, that was obvious in the first three or four weeks for me,” a defiant Ralf Rangnick said after the humbling defeat. The gaps in the team are obvious, as mentioned on Saturday the need for a holding midfielder could not be more obvious. The space being left in front of the back four from the lacklustre midfield, caused United problems all evening.

Tactical experiment did not work

Ralf Rangnick has stringently stuck to a back four for most of his brief stint as interim manager, so it was a slight shock when he changed the formation to an untested back three against arguably the best team in the league.

The experiment was daring but failed miserably, the defence were pulled all over the place. Within 10 minutes, United had been caught out multiple times, the space in behind for Mohammed Salah to cross to Luis Diaz was a chasm. United were being picked apart left, right and centre, whilst Liverpool are the quadruple chasing in-form side so their dominance of the play was understandable, United showed no defensive awareness in the first half or for the majority of the second.

United’s best bit of play was at half-time, when whilst Martin Atkinson was being delayed due to technical issues. United’s fallen stars were pinging the ball around waiting and were greeted with ironic ‘Ole’s’, as they kept the ball for a sustained period of time.

A back three shouldn’t be required again, United did marginally improve in the second half when switched to their standard back four, which is something that will need to be used from the off on Saturday against Arsenal.

Jadon Sancho is crucial

At half-time of the mauling, something had to be done. £73 million winger Jadon Sancho, who has arguably been the club’s most consistent player this season, was called upon to do the impossible. A switch to a back four however, did make United seem more comfortable, with and without the ball.

For the first 20 minutes of the second-half, United did wrestle back some control from the potentially overconfident hosts, much to Jurgen Klopp’s obvious anger. Sancho off the left looks a lot more assured than he does off the right, despite the 21-year-old being bought to fill United’s gap on their right-flank.

With an 88% passing accuracy from his 35 touches of the ball and a 66% dribble success rate, Sancho brought some much-needed control of the ball and moved United up the pitch. The winger could have had a goal for himself, if he put more power into his tame effort early in the second half.

Sancho and Aaron Wan Bissaka who again looked more assured in a back four were the only positives on another chastening night for Rangnick’s not so merry men, top four may well be a pipe dream. Arsenal away on Saturday presents yet another test of the club’s metal, things need to change quickly as the season reaches it’s conclusion.

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