From Ferguson, a shake of the head. From Ferdinand, a blast over a lack of fight. Scholes simply labelled it a shambles.
Manchester United legends reflecting on one of the darkest days of a season crammed full of dark days.
This wasn’t just a painful Europa League defeat at the hands of their fiercest rivals. This was a betrayal of the roots of Manchester United. A betrayal of the history, the tradition and the values that make the club what it is.
Louis van Gaal sent his United side into battle like lambs to the slaughter. From the outset there was no ambition. United went to Anfield with the sole intention of hanging on in the game, keeping themselves in the tie and going to Old Trafford next week with a chance of progressing.
Like a boxer afraid to throw any punches for the fear they might get hit back, the Red Devils were tore to pieces by a Liverpool side filled with hunger and drive – the kind of attributes United used to boast.
Sure, on the face of it they were undone by a questionable penalty decision and a horrendous defensive error but there was only one side who ever looked like winning the contest.
Michael Owen, commentating for BT Sport, said early on in the contest that there was nothing between the two teams and that ‘it’s a toss up who progresses’. And he was right. On paper this was two evenly matched teams and should have produced an even contest.
It was anything but. Jurgen Klopp had his side well drilled, full of energy and vitality with a creative edge that United can only dream of under Van Gaal. Liverpool were quicker to every ball, technically superior and, were it not for the brilliance of United keeper David De Gea, would be out of sight in the tie at the halfway stage.
This was an embodiment of everything that has occurred at Old Trafford since the Dutchman took the reigns. Around £300m spent since David Moyes was unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin of United history and Van Gaal’s side have made no substantial progress. Sixth in the Premier League, staring Europa League elimination in the face and, with a season-defining FA Cup clash against West Ham on the horizon, these are bleak times indeed at Old Trafford.
Given the short shrift that was given to Moyes during his tenure it is perhaps bewildering that the floundering Van Gaal is still in the hotseat. The negative tactics, the lack of ambition, the bizarre use of players out of position all add up to the cacophony of chaos that the Dutchman has created at the club.
In the last few weeks, Van Gaal has been given a free ride by the introduction of the youngsters into the first team – an introduction he was forced into. Marcus Rashford’s four goals in his first two games breathed fresh life into the club. The fact that against Liverpool, the hotshot forward was deployed as a right wing-back epitomises the scattergun approach of Van Gaal.
“Manchester United didn’t need a new philosophy – they had one for 20 years which worked,” fumed the frustrated Scholes, a man for whom winning and fighting for United became second nature.
His passion wouldn’t go amiss among in this United side. While their bitter rivals Liverpool look to be rising under Klopp, the Red Devils are scratching around in the dark for a solution of how to thrive in the post-Ferguson era. An ill-conceived transfer policy, a lack of on-field development and no signs of improvement are all pointing towards Van Gaal finally being pushed out of the Old Trafford door sooner rather than later.
Be it Giggs, Mourinho, Pochettino or all of the above, United need a fresh outlook and a restructuring of the club from top to bottom. A waving of the white flag at Anfield will not be accepted on the Old Trafford terraces and it can’t be accepted in the corridors of power.
“The fairytale has gone,” Ferdinand said in the aftermath of the defeat.
Hope is not lost. Can United turn around this tie? Of course they can. How do they do it? Well having a few shots on goal would be a start.
Can Van Gaal turn the club’s fortunes around long term? Not a chance. United are too many bleak performances, too many depressing nights and too many missed opportunities down the line to go back now.
The Dutchman’s days are numbered. Liverpool may have whacked the final nail in his heavily hammered coffin.
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