Manchester United, and manager Erik ten Hag, were “caught out” against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, says Paul Merson, who believes recent results have only “papered over” considerable cracks in their ongoing overhaul under the Dutchman.
A week on from winning the Carabao Cup and ending a six-year wait for silverware, the Old Trafford giants headed to Merseyside with their tails up and background noise of a potential quadruple – which Merse believes to be mere fairy tale.
Indeed any faint Premier League title hopes went up in smoke in a 7-0 annihilation at the hands of a rampant Liverpool on Sunday, as United unravelled in a loss that matched their heaviest-ever defeat.
“They gave up,” Merse told Sky Sports, while also questioning Ten Hag’s tactical set-up, which “wrongly” placed Marcus Rashford through the middle and Wout Weghorst as an auxiliary striker.
“Man Utd have been getting away with it and have been caught. Leicester should have been 2-0 up against them a few weeks back – they win 3-0 and it papers over the cracks.
“Newcastle have a great chance in the Carabao Cup final in the first five minutes, they score that and it’s a different game. One of United’s best players has been David de Gea. He’s bailing them out.
“I haven’t bought into this ‘Man Utd are in the title race’ ever – not ever. They are nowhere near. What I saw [against Liverpool] was embarrassing at the highest level. This is their biggest game of the season. Chelsea played so badly at Spurs last week – the biggest game of their season – but it was never going to be 7-0.”
Merson continued: “When Gary Neville is telling us on the TV that Bruno Fernandes is throwing his hands up because he wants to come off – it’s mind-blowing. It was scary. They were never in the Premier League title race in a million years. 7-0 is so embarrassing. There are no excuses. I don’t care if you have two players sent off, you shouldn’t get beaten by seven with that quality of players.
“They downed tools. They gave up. I hate saying that but it was a complete and utter mess. The name of the game is to make sure this doesn’t undo everything – it’s about how quickly you bounce back. Good teams bounce back.
“There are ways of losing football matches, sometimes you’re unlucky. But you don’t lose like that. They’ve got top quality players and it shouldn’t have unravelled like that. Liverpool had United on the floor and they wanted to keep them down there.”
Merson was also particularly critical of the way Ten Hag set up his team at Anfield: “The manager, for me, has been getting away with it. Yes, he’s done great in a way. But Wout Weghorst as a No 10, I’m not having that. How is he a No 10? How is the manager getting away with that? It’s Manchester United Football Club and you’ve got Weghorst as a 10 – he can’t turn and run, he can’t pass through the eye of a needle. What is the thinking?
“I’m not blaming Ten Hag because they lost, but why play Marcus Rashford against Virgil van Dijk? He plays out wide every week.
“You’ve got Liverpool’s weakest defender in Trent Alexander-Arnold having a free ride. Trent wouldn’t have believed his luck. Man Utd got it tactically wrong. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the set-up of the team – there is only one manager who could have got away with that and that is Ten Hag.”