Manchester United’s crumbling home is the perfect theatre for Erik ten Hag’s broken dreams

Erik ten Hag’s recurring excuse about injury problems is as tired as Old Trafford’s leaking roof, writes Richard Jolly, and it cannot explain away why United are nearing a historic low

Monday 13 May 2024 10:06 BST
A sodden Erik ten Hag leaves the pitch after Manchester United’s defeat by Arsenal
A sodden Erik ten Hag leaves the pitch after Manchester United’s defeat by Arsenal (Reuters)

The final ignominy came after the final whistle, Old Trafford’s famously leaking roof fashioning a waterfall. As tourist attractions go, it wasn’t supposed to be Manchester’s answer to the Niagara Falls. The Theatre of the Dreams has become the theatre of the drenched. Manchester United, though, is a club where everything can tumble quickly: fortunes, reputations, player values. A team who have slid down the table are now eighth, on course for their worst Premier League finish.

Even David Moyes bottomed out at seventh, Ralf Rangnick in sixth. For Erik ten Hag, the wrong kind of distinctions beckon. The manager trumpeting unprecedented achievements at Old Trafford was Mikel Arteta. “It’s 27 wins in the Premier League. It’s the most in the history of this club,” he said after that rarity, an Arsenal triumph at Old Trafford. “That is not progress, it is history.”

For Ten Hag, history comes in regression. United’s faulty roof may offer many a metaphor but there is numerical evidence of their travails. United are on 54 points; unless they get at least four more from their two remaining games, it will be their lowest return in the Premier League era. Concede another two goals and it will be their most in a campaign in the division; as it is, their defence has been breached 82 times in all competitions this season, the most in 53 seasons. United are on course to finish a league campaign with their worst goal difference since 1973-74, when they were relegated. They have suffered their most home defeats since that relegation campaign. Across the four competitions they have entered they have lost 19 times. They have not been beaten in 20 matches in a campaign since, once again, the relegation campaign.

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