Why Man Utd need to sack Ten Hag now to avoid their worst ever Premier League season

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Manchester United’s desperate display against Crystal Palace suggests that it may be best to move on from Erik ten Hag sooner rather than later.

Erik ten Hag is a dead manager walking – pretty much everyone knows by now that there is next to no chance he will still be sat in the Old Trafford dugout by August. But after Monday night’s pitiful defeat to Crystal Palace, you have to wonder whether it’s worth letting a zombie coach limp on. Manchester United stand on the brink of their worst ever Premier League season, and sacking the Dutchman now might make the last few games go a little more smoothly.

It wasn’t the worst result in Manchester United’s recent history, of course. Maybe that was the 6-1 defeat in the Manchester Derby back in 2011, or the devastating 7-0 loss to Liverpool just over a year ago. You could make a case for the time they lost 6-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur back in 2020. The post-Ferguson era has offered the fans their pick of humblings and humiliations.

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But to lose 4-0 at Selhurst Park to extend a long and miserable run of results which peaks at mediocrity still feels like a new low. And with games against Arsenal, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion yet to come, never mind an FA Cup final against Manchester City, there is plenty of scope for things to get even worse before the summer puts this season out of its misery.

Was it ever quite this bad under David Moyes, or Ole Gunnar Solskjær, or at the rump end of José Mourinho’s reign? The statistics suggest not. United have already shipped 81 goals in all competitions, more than they have in any other season since their nadir in the Seventies. They have endured 13 league defeats, their most in a league season since the formation of the Premier League, and are currently sat eighth in the table – United have never finished lower than seventh in this incarnation of the English top flight. This is, by this huge club’s stratospheric standards, an utterly dismal performance.

And frankly, they’re pretty luck to be as far up the table as they are. Earlier in the season, United made a habit of picking up points in games in which they were outplayed. Now, that happy habit has fallen away, and they are getting the results they deserve. They can beat Sheffield United, one of the worst teams in Premier League history, and they can scrape past second-tier Coventry City in the Cup, but that’s as good as it gets.

On Sky Sports’ coverage, Jamie Carragher described them as “one of the most poorly-coached teams in the Premier League,” and it’s hard to come up with an argument against that. Their defence is all over the place, their attack is utterly isolated from the midfield, and on an individual basis almost everyone looks disinterested and desperately out of touch.

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One can blame some individual failings on the players themselves, and they will have to bear their share of the recriminations come the summer, but the buck still stops with Ten Hag. His tactics this season have been incoherent - and how many players can one coach seemingly fall out with over the course of just two years? Publicly, Jadon Sancho went into self-imposed exile rather than play for Ten Hag, Marcus Rashford has run into disciplinary issues, and Alejandro Garnacho started liking social media posts panning his own manager. Privately, given the lack of desire displayed on the pitch, it’s hard to imagine that they’re the only players to have become disillusioned.

Yes, things started pretty well under Ten Hag. They won the League Cup last season, made the top four, and for the first time in a while there was a sense of forward momentum, but that has dissipated. Casemiro’s dire performance underlines the malaise – when he arrived he felt like a transformative player, a culture setter. Now he looks dead on his feet and more like a liability than a player capable of making a tangible difference. Player and manager have wilted in tandem.

The argument against sacking a manager in Ten Hag’s shoes is that it doesn’t necessarily achieve much to install a temporary replacement for just a few more matches – but there is still plenty on the line. There is an FA Cup to be won and on their current trajectory, United may well miss out on European qualification of any kind. They have four tough matches to come, and on Monday’s evidence, there is no indication that they are likely to win any of them.

Ineos, the new minority shareholders who have taken charge of United’s sporting direction, have already instigated a review of Ten Hag’s role. It is unlikely, given performance levels and Ineos’ trigger-happy approach to hiring and firing managers at their clubs in France and Switzerland, that the Dutchman will survive its findings. He knows he is on his way out, the fans know it, the players know it. Keeping him in place only prolongs the inertia – better, surely, to give the last four games over to a caretaker.

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They will find their new long-term head coach over the summer, but giving someone on the staff a few games in charge can’t make results any worse. The only real issue is that they have a surprisingly small coaching staff – outside of dedicated goalkeeping and conditioning coaches, Ten Hag is backed up by just two assistants, with no generalist first-team coaches. But Steve McClaren is there, and while few would be thrilled at the prospect of his taking the reins for a few matches, he’s still an experienced campaigner and could scarcely send the spiral any further downwards.

If not him, then a youth coach. Maybe Darren Fletcher, who serves as technical director. Anybody, frankly, with a little bit of vim and vigour. With a trophy and European qualification on the line, why not roll the dice? After all, can anyone seriously see this United side beating their local rivals at Wembley in May?

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