Manchester United’s season has been slow thus far but their great rivals have shown what can come next
Vincent Kompany probably had it right this week when he said big clubs are never more than one game from a crisis.
He will be hoping to pile more misery on Manchester United this weekend, a club for whom crisis might be their middle name such have been the travails of the past few years. The Reds have lost their last three matches in all competitions, have an array of injuries and question marks over their style and identity. That’s just on the pitch without looking deeper behind the scenes.
Tonight’s Turf Moor trip pits a team that have played three lost and three at home against one that have played three and lost three away. Something has to give.
United’s start to the season has been a poor one with home performances disappointing and away results non-existent. Six points from five games is not good enough. There are mitigating circumstances and the Reds can look down the road to Merseyside for a blueprint on how to turn things around.
Liverpool are among the early pacesetters this term but things were far from rosy in the Anfield garden a year ago. They won only two of their first eight games, taking just 10 points, and even when they seemed to kickstart their campaign with home wins over Manchester City and West Ham they promptly lost to Nottingham Forest and Leeds United.
It meant they only had 16 points from their opening dozen games with twice as many defeats (four) as they suffered in the entirety of the previous campaign. They too were suffering with a glut of injuries not dissimilar to the current problems at Old Trafford.
And while the Merseysiders ended the season without a trophy or Champions League football, they finished it with an 11-game unbeaten run and then finessed a summer overhaul. Out went the likes of Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita – squad players with little re-sale value. Jurgen Klopp had already added Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo prior to those departures and strengthened further this summer, bringing in younger players equipped for the system he plays.
It’s something Erik ten Hag can mirror. His start to this season has been as poor as Liverpool’s was last, the injury mitigation stood for both clubs, and the way Klopp’s side finished last term, trimmed their deadwood in the summer and continued their on-pitch momentum this season is a process Ten Hag and United could easily achieve.
The Old Trafford squad overhaul is underway but unfinished. This could well be the final campaign for Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho and others who are no longer first choice and no longer required. Rasmus Hojlund is spearheading the new era and a summer of further change in 2024 could boost the Reds further and provide them with the ability to hit the ground running for Ten Hag’s third season. It might mean step back this term to make two steps forward next.
And here’s something else to ponder: Klopp’s third full season in charge at Anfield brought the Champions League trophy.