Home Sports Ten Hag needs to start being honest with himself: Man United are a disorganised mess

Ten Hag needs to start being honest with himself: Man United are a disorganised mess

Ten Hag needs to start being honest with himself: Man United are a disorganised mess


LONDON — It turns out that if you let an opponent endlessly shoot at your goal, you really can pay the price after all.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has downplayed the alarming frequency with which Brentford, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City — basically any side they play — have had the time and space to pepper goalkeeper André Onana from all angles. But maybe even Ten Hag will see the problem after Manchester United’s calamitous 4-3 defeat to Chelsea on Thursday.

There was so little organisation, composure or structure to Thursday’s chaotic match that both Ten Hag and Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino resembled hostages to fortune, left praying for a result that would ease the pressure each has felt increasing with each passing week.

Chelsea went 2-0 up in 19 minutes. United came back to lead 3-2 heading into stoppage time. Chelsea equalised with a 100th-minute penalty before Cole Palmer scored the latest game-winning goal in Premier League history a minute later to spark bedlam at Stamford Bridge.

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It was as outrageous as it sounds, a roller coaster with several wheels loose, and embarrassingly juxtaposed with the control exhibited by the best teams: Manchester City and Arsenal played to a 0-0 draw days earlier, and although it lacked the entertainment of Thursday’s back-and-forth, Ten Hag and Pochettino would crave the same sense of assurance in knowing what they will get from their sides.

Each manager bought a ticket to the lottery and Pochettino’s number came up. He spent the aftermath of the final whistle celebrating almost angrily in the direction of the home fans, many of whom had voiced their frustration once more at another deeply flawed display that seemed destined to end in defeat.

Ten Hag disappeared down the tunnel to embark on a series of postmatch interviews where he bemoaned the decision to award Chelsea’s second penalty of the match as Diogo Dalot challenged substitute Noni Madueke in the box. Ten Hag called it “a questionable and very soft” call as he also claimed United dominated the game.

But all this is obfuscation from Ten Hag. United lack such basic organisation that they were incapable of knowing how to close this game out, just as Chelsea were reliant on Hail Mary moments rather than a cohesive plan to find a way back. United were leading at 99 minutes and 17 seconds, the latest a side has ever been ahead only to then lose.

Both teams have the individual talent to cause any side problems going forward. Both sides are so dreadfully ill-disciplined without the ball to allow any opponent a route back into a match from almost any conceivable position.

United allowed another 28 shots on their goal here. They have conceded 20-plus shots in seven of their past eight Premier League games and they’ve conceded 225 total shots in 2024, the highest number in the league.

It is utterly unsustainable. Beating Liverpool in a similarly farcical FA Cup tie by the same scoreline was a glorious occasion but not a blueprint for the future.

Pochettino spent his prematch news conference urging Chelsea to do the basics properly, criticising their work out of possession. Ten Hag spent the same period insisting things were on track. Only one of these managers is being honest with themselves and Ten Hag seemed to bristle at further talk of those shocking shots-conceded numbers.

“It is ridiculous,” he said. “We showed we were fourth ranking before this game in goals conceded. Everyone is talking to each other after, we are good and we have good defending as a team, a good goalkeeper and a good back four so I cannot do anything with such stats.”

Another familiar refrain: where would Chelsea be without Palmer? Conor Gallagher put Chelsea up 1-0 inside four minutes with a low finish from Malo Gusto‘s deflected cutback, but Palmer showed his now-customary composure to double their lead from the penalty spot after Antony fouled Marc Cucurella.

The Blues are so brittle and error-prone that what came next was virtually predictable: Moisés Caicedo gifted Alejandro Garnacho a chance to run through on goal and the Argentine finished with aplomb. Five minutes later, United were level. Dalot crossed for Bruno Fernandes to head home at the far post.

No order was established during the half-time break. United went in front when Garnacho stooped to head in Antony’s brilliant 67th-minute cross and it appeared Mason Mount would have the last laugh on supporters who booed his return to Chelsea as he came on four minutes from the end of normal time.

But there was still time for a humiliating capitulation. Madueke was Pochettino’s last throw of the dice and he surged into the box on a solo run, which Dalot halted in a manner referee Jarred Gillett felt was unacceptable. Palmer did his thing from the spot again — surpassing Inter Milan’s Hakan Çalhanoglu for most penalty goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season with eight — and United suddenly lost their heads, surging forward from kickoff to the extent that when they lost the ball, Chelsea could outnumber them on the counterattack.

United’s defending from the resulting corner is impossible to explain. Enzo Fernández took it short to Palmer on the edge of the box. The most dangerous player on the pitch, left unmarked to line up a shot which struck Dalot and went in.

Yes, Chelsea were a little fortunate, but United’s lack of professionalism was the root cause.

“I don’t know what it is but what it is, is that you have to do your job,” Ten Hag said. “They know their jobs and then you have to make the right decisions, and they didn’t. We didn’t react quick enough to avoid this situation.”

But this isn’t a one-off. It happened just five days earlier at Brentford and only Crystal Palace (10) have conceded more second-half stoppage time goals than United (8) in the league this season.

Champions League football is rapidly disappearing from view for United, who now have a negative goal difference again after 30 league matches.

“In the last games we’ve conceded too many shots,” Fernandes said, adding: “It’s about defending your box.”

At least some of United’s players can see it.


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