It is a day that Manchester United fans would rather soon forget.
Sunday’s emphatic 5-0 thrashing at the hands of fierce rival Liverpool highlighted everything that is currently wrong at the club and has put untold pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The hosts simply showed an apathetic level of intensity with individual errors and a lack of organization that was brutally exploited by a ruthless opponent.
Solskjaer’s face at full-time showed a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, looking almost stunned by what he had witnessed within the walls of Old Trafford.
“It’s not easy to say something apart from it’s the darkest day I’ve had leading these players and we weren’t good enough, individually and as a team,” he said after the match, with his side slipping down to seventh in the Premier League, eight points behind leaders Chelsea and seven behind Liverpool.
“You can’t give a team like Liverpool those chances, unfortunately we did. The whole performance wasn’t good enough, that’s for sure.”
As he walked down the tunnel, Solskjaer clapped those fans who stayed to show support to the team, though some had even left at half-time with Liverpool 4-0 up.
As Liverpool’s traveling support taunted Solskaer — “Ole’s at the wheel” — boos rang out from the rest of the stadium with fans furious with the team’s display.
Solskjaer will always be a legend at the club for his performances there as a player but there are fears that his managerial regime is tarnishing that once great legacy.
From the evidence provided from performances this season, United look way short of its competition, both tactically and mentally.
There was an indiscipline as well on Sunday — Paul Pogba red carded shortly after he came on as a second-half substitute for a rash tackle on Naby Keita.
That tackle resulted in Keita, who had scored Liverpool’s first goal, being stretchered off.
Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City under Pep Guardiola and Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel have all excelled way beyond the levels of United.
Those three clubs have world class managers at the helm. All three have shown exponential development under their managers and have won trophies as a result of that coaching and leadership — United’s current form suggests Solskjaer is coming up short.
“We have to really get over this as quickly as we can and move on,” Solskjaer added, remaining defiant that he is still the right man for the job.
“You’re not a robot, of course. I’m devastated and I’m as low as I’ve ever been when I’ve been at this fantastic football club.
“We’ve had dark days here before and we’ve always bounced back. I will always bounce back, no matter what the situation is now.”
‘Liverpool dismantled them’
United’s woes were only amplified by Liverpool’s superiority.
The visitors were everything United weren’t, playing with real energy, pressing together as a unit and winning the ball back high in United’s half.
The hosts simply couldn’t deal with the pressure and made countless mistakes to give Liverpool’s attack a plethora of chances.
In past games, United’s blushes have been saved by a combination of poor finishing from the opposition and the brilliant form of goalkeeper David de Gea but it ran out of luck on Sunday.
Led by star man Mohamed Salah — perhaps the best player in the world at the moment — Liverpool was ruthless.
Salah scored a hat-trick but, in truth, the Egyptian probably could have had more if Klopp’s side hadn’t taken its foot off the gas in the second half.
“They [United] get outrun, they are one of the lowest running teams in the league and easy to play against, that’s a poor reflection on manager, staff and players,” said former United player and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville after the match.
“They have got no structure to press from, they don’t run as hard as other teams and they are easy to play against. Liverpool dismantled them.”
It isn’t as though Solskjaer hasn’t had the backing of the board.
This summer, the Norwegian bought in three world class players — Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo — and now has a squad, that on paper at least, should be able to compete with the best.
But despite all the millions that have been spent, United remains a team of individuals that lacks identity and has a defense which has failed to keep a clean sheet for its last 10 games in all competitions.
In addition, Sancho has barely made an impact since his big money move from Borussia Dortmund and spent Sunday’s match on the substitute’s bench. Varane, although impressive, is currently injured and Ronaldo, at 36, has come under some criticism for not working hard enough on the pitch.
So in the absence of a working structure and organized defending, Solskjaer has often relied on moments of magic to drag his side through games — a tactic that has at least provided some memorable moments.
In its last game, United trailed Atalanta 2-0 at half-time in a Champions League group game before completing a stunning second half comeback to win the game 3-2 — Ronaldo rising high to head home the winner.
After that game, amid the frenzy, United legend and current BT pundit Paul Scholes gave United a reality check and his comments were proved true on Sunday.
“It’s brilliant, but that first half has stuck with me,” Scholes said after United won on Wednesday.
“They’ve come back with great spirit, but they conceded so many chances. If you’re playing against quality players, there’s no way you can win that game.
“Go and do that on Sunday and see what happens.”
With many fans now losing faith in Solskjaer’s capabilities to coach at this level, the manager is facing a very uncertain future.
His must now plan to navigate his wounded side past Tottenham and Manchester City in United’s next two league games — a frightening prospect for a team that has struggled to cope against quality players in recent weeks.
Any more embarrassing defeats and you feel the writing could be on the wall for Solskjaer.
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