Bayern Was Do Or Die For Man United, But Ten Hag Chose To Do Neither

It was an oddly timid display from the Red Devils at Old Trafford
10:19, 13 Dec 2023

Manchester United are out of the Champions League. A 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on Tuesday night was not as bad as some feared. But in a way, that told its own story. The Red Devils played like a team trying to keep the score down rather than one attempting to engineer a dramatic surge into the knockout round of the Champions League.

As it happens, United would not have gone through even if they had pulled off the shock of all shocks. FC Copenhagen’s 1-0 win over Galatasaray meant that a United victory over the German champions would have seen them go into the Europa League.


But the details of games elsewhere mattered little. United needed a win to ensure they would play some semblance of European football for the remainder of the season. But instead, they defended resolutely while offering a single shot on target, a speculative Luke Shaw effort that Manuel Neuer had no trouble with.

The idea of a ‘Manchester United way’ is overplayed in the media. Even during the 26-year reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, his mode and method of football changed numerous times. But one thing that has always typified the traditional Red Devils ideal is effort, application and fight. But United took to the pitch like a team trying to avoid a humiliation rather than pull off an upset. They were the overmatched boxer grateful to go the distance against a Hall of Fame foe. 

If you play not to lose, you rarely win. Ambition is on the floor on the red half of Manchester it seems. A heavy defeat borne from a reckless will to win may have made for grim reading on the scoreboard but, in its way, would have been more credible than what transpired. No football fan expects victory every week. But the pursuit of victory is paramount.


If dodging humiliation is becoming a priority over victory, then Erik ten Hag’s battle for authority at Old Trafford might already be lost. To perform so meekly in a vital game is almost a personal admission of failure. An acknowledgment from the former Ajax head coach that his methods would be no match for those of Thomas Tuchel and Bayern. Which is a stark admission considering Eintracht Frankfurt stuck five goals past them at the weekend. Obviously that 5-1 loss doesn’t make Bayern a bad team, far from it. But it does suggest they can be got at. United didn’t look willing to test this theory.

This new safety-first approach could have worrying implications for Sunday. United travel to Anfield to meet arch-rivals Liverpool. United’s timid approach perhaps benefited from Bayern having already qualified for the Champions League knockout round as group winners. But Liverpool currently top the Premier League table, with just a single point separating them from second-placed Arsenal with two points between the Reds and Aston Villa in third. Jurgen Klopp’s men have got it all to play for as they try and fortify their position before Christmas.

The match is also a bitterly-contested derby. Even if Ten Hag sets United up to absorb pressure, Liverpool will be gunning for their most-cherished scalp. Another 7-0 suddenly doesn’t look out of the realms of possibility. Will that result play on the minds of United’s players, in the same way a possible hammering against Bayern seemed to?

This is not the fabled ‘United way’. Scrambling from game to game just hoping not to get too embarrassed. But it is the way this confounding team seems to be heading. Bayern were willing to play along, gently nudging the Red Devils out of the competition on Tuesday. Liverpool are unlikely to be as compliant.

liverpool to beat united 7-0: 90/1*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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