Soccer

The key questions behind Manchester United’s poor start to the season

Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club (Nick Potts/PA)
Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club (Nick Potts/PA) Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club (Nick Potts/PA)

Out-of-sorts Manchester United have lost three successive matches for the first time since 2019 as their concerning start to the season continues.

The 4-3 defeat at Bayern Munich in Wednesday’s Champions League opener was the latest and, here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the issues facing the Old Trafford giants.

Weren’t things looking up under Erik ten Hag?

Erik ten Hag's second season at Old Trafford has got off to a poor start
Erik ten Hag's second season at Old Trafford has got off to a poor start Erik ten Hag’s second season at Old Trafford has got off to a poor start (Martin Rickett/PA)

After a wretched 2021-22 season, the Red Devils turned to meticulous Ajax boss Ten Hag in a bid to improve the club’s fortunes. The response was impressive as United went on to win the Carabao Cup – their first trophy in six years – and finish third in the Premier League, as well as going on to finish runners-up to Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

How has his second season begun?

United rode their luck when beating Wolves 1-0 in their opener before seeing a bright start peter out in a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham. Ten Hag’s side bounced back from that and two early Nottingham Forest goals in their next game to win a 3-2 thriller, but since then things have gone downhill. A heartbreaking late 3-1 loss at Arsenal was compounded by a deserved defeat by the same scoreline at home to Brighton on Saturday, then Wednesday’s comprehensive 4-3 loss to Bayern. It all means United have lost four of their opening six matches for the first time since 1986-87.

What about the supposed takeover?

Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club
Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club Fans have continued to protest against the ownership of the club (Nick Potts/PA)

Fans have protested against the Glazer family since their controversial leveraged takeover in 2005. Last November’s announcement of a strategic review, including the possibility of a full sale, brought hope of change. Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim submitted bids but the owners have dragged their heels, so the interminable potential sale limps on without clarity. Protests have continued, including a sit-in after the home game against Forest, and things could get ugly if, as reported, the Glazers take the club off the market.

What about issues regarding the playing squad?

Mason Greenwood never played for Ten Hag and is unlikely to ever represent the club again, but United’s internal investigation into him cast a shadow over the start of the season. The Red Devils eventually bowed to external pressure and announced it had been mutually agreed that academy product would leave. Greenwood joined Getafe in a deadline-day loan and within days United had headaches to contend with regarding fellow forwards Jadon Sancho and Antony.

What happened with Sancho?

Jadon Sancho is currently training away from the first team
Jadon Sancho is currently training away from the first team Jadon Sancho is currently training away from the first team (Martin Rickett/PA)

Long-term target Sancho arrived from Borussia Dortmund in 2021 but has struggled to live up to the hype. The 23-year-old was an eye-catching omission from the squad that lost at Arsenal, with Ten Hag saying the absence was down to poor performance in training. Furious Sancho claimed on social media that he had been made a “scapegoat” – something that has seen him banished from the first-team group “pending resolution of a squad discipline issue”.

What is the latest with Antony?

Last summer’s big money signing is currently on a leave of absence in order to address allegations made against him of violence towards women. Antony has not been arrested or charged and says he will co-operate with police in order to prove his innocence. United have agreed with the player for him to stay away from the club in order to focus on defending himself. There is no timescale on his return.

That is a lot to of players to be without…

Raphael Varane (right) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (left) are among those currently out injured
Raphael Varane (right) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (left) are among those currently out injured Raphael Varane (right) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (left) are among those currently out injured (John Walton/PA)

Yes, but it goes beyond that as nine players were absent through injury against Bayern. Tyrell Malacia, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were out, so too fellow defenders Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane. Deadline-day signing Sofyan Amrabat has yet to be fit to make his debut, while fellow new boy Mason Mount has been out of the last four matches. Amad Diallo and Kobbie Mainoo complete an injury list that Ten Hag understandably called a concern.

What’s next for United?

Ten Hag’s side stayed overnight in Germany and fly home on Thursday looking to kickstart their stuttering season. Their only wins to date have been unconvincing and Manchester City great Vincent Kompany is looking to heap further misery on United at Burnley this Saturday evening. It is early days but United are in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory at Turf Moor.