Why This Liverpool Defeat Is Different For Manchester United And Solskjaer

We've seen United heavily beaten before, but this one feels different
12:01, 25 Oct 2021

A humiliating five-goal defeat to one of their closest rivals - Manchester United have been here before. Ten years ago this weekend, Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City came to town and wiped the floor with Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-holders in one of the most shocking Premier League results in recent history. Although that 6-1 result sent shockwaves around Europe and signalled an emergence from the blue half of the city, Sunday’s 5-0 home reverse to Liverpool feels hugely different, but equally as significant.

In fact, it feels different to any of United’s recent heavy defeats. 

The performance against Liverpool has been rightly torn apart and for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer it could be a terminal defeat. His side have muddled through the opening nine games of the season, winning matches more by luck than judgement and up against top class opposition have finally been found out, in brutal circumstances. 

When Ferguson lost that match to City a decade ago, it felt like a complete flash in the pan result - one we were unlikely to ever see again. The worst thing comparatively about this Liverpool result is that it was so utterly inevitable, given the way United have been playing. Fergie’s United recovered from that defeat to finish second, only losing out on the title on goal difference on the final day - but there is absolutely no way that this iteration of the Red Devils are getting that close to the title this season.

As we saw on the Old Trafford pitch, they are so far adrift of their title rivals this term, that the best they can hope for is a top four finish. The City loss a decade ago was a one-off, but Solskjaer has also been in this position before, just over a year ago. That day Jose Mourinho came to town with Tottenham Hotspur and secured the same result that City did in 2012, which also prompted critics to claim Solskjaer was out of his depth. However, United went down to ten men early on that match and bounced back, winning their next match 4-1 against Newcastle before beating PSG in the Champions League. 

But again, this feels different. Spurs stunned United with a clinical display but you could see United’s game plan throughout. Solskjaer has always preferred to play incisive counter-attacking football and the Red Devils have made progress during his three year tenure, but now they seem stuck in a pressing purgatory. Against Liverpool, they wanted to take the initiative and get in the faces of Jurgen Klopp’s side but instead found themselves picked off with ease.

In a statistical quirk, all five of United’s heaviest Premier League defeats have come in the month of October, with this Liverpool defeat joining the two aforementioned 6-1 losses and two 5-0 losses to Newcastle and Chelsea respectively in the late 1990s. 

But this time, they don’t have the benefit of a kind fixture list to bounce back upon. They are in the midst of their toughest run on paper and as Gary Neville keeps reiterating, they have enjoyed a comfortable start to the season - having only faced Liverpool out of the self-appointed ‘big six’ so far. Next up is a trip to Tottenham, followed by Atalanta away and then the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.

This defeat has brought a grinding halt to Solskjaer’s progression at the club and now he is under a huge amount of scrutiny heading into these three matches. It seems that the brutal reality has now hit home - Manchester United will not challenge for the Premier League title while Solskjaer is at the helm. His managerial fragilities have been exposed and while the other defeats were simply blips in the road of a long-term plan, this one threatens to derail the entire club. 

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