Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool: Erik ten Hag’s future in balance – as are Liverpool hopes

Home » Man Utd 2-2 Liverpool: Erik ten Hag’s future in balance – as are Liverpool hopes

If Sir Jim Ratcliffe is still pondering a final decision on the future of Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, he will be none the wiser after his visit to Old Trafford to watch another chaotic meeting with Liverpool.

The club’s new billionaire co-owner fought his way through the rain and winds of Storm Kathleen to take his seat, then watched as Liverpool threatened to blow away everything in their path in a remarkable first half.

Liverpool’s 1-0 interval advantage, courtesy of a Luis Diaz goal, came at the end of a first half in which Jurgen Klopp’s side led the shots count by 15 to none. The fact the visitors’ lead was so slender was almost a source of triumph for an outclassed United.

This would have been evidence for the prosecution on any Ten Hag verdict before the case for the defence – not a phrase you can comfortably associate with this porous United side – was produced after the break.

Ratcliffe will have been just as stunned as everyone else inside Old Trafford at how Liverpool contrived to gift United an equaliser after 50 minutes, when Jarell Quansah passed straight to Bruno Fernandes, who lifted a long-range finish over stranded keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

It was then the turn of 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo – watched by another teenage prodigy in darts player Luke Littler and, more significantly, by England assistant manager Steve Holland as well – to produce a moment of magic to put United ahead.

Mainoo’s curling shot beyond the stretching Kelleher in front of a delirious Stretford End revived memories of another big goal by a teenager at the same end of Old Trafford – it is now 15 years to the weekend since Federico Macheda scored a dramatic late winner against Aston Villa that proved critical as United won the title that season.

The England youngster’s brilliance completed an unlikely turn of events. Klopp was reduced to raging, arm-waving fury in his technical area as the Stretford End dusted down an old Rafael Benitez taunt with chants of “Jurgen’s cracking up”.

Not true, of course, but even Klopp will know Liverpool have only themselves to blame for taking only a point, even that secured only through Mohamed Salah’s late penalty amid even more missed chances.

‘Ten Hag must demonstrate he can solve Man Utd’s problems’

Quite what Ratcliffe made of it all would be fascinating to discover after a week that has not exactly lifted Ten Hag’s chances of survival.

What Ten Hag can offer up, in exactly the same way as he could after last month’s FA Cup quarter-final win over Liverpool at Old Trafford, is that his United side possess character and fight when they eventually rouse themselves – which is not often enough but certainly what they did here.

United were still wide open but they were at least up for the contest despite their injury problems. Their second-half performance was unrecognisable from their first, although the once-great Casemiro almost aged visibly before the Old Trafford crowd’s eyes as Liverpool rampaged.

The big problem for Ten Hag, studying the wider picture, is that they still look light years away from the Premier League’s top three. Whether he likes it or not, Ratcliffe will have to dig into his deep pockets to get anywhere near his avowed aim of knocking Liverpool and Manchester City off their perches.

What United are doing, and sometimes getting away with, in their current guise is unsustainable.

They faced 28 shots here, their highest total on record in a Premier League game at Old Trafford, and 62 in all in two league meetings with Liverpool this season – and yet have not lost in three games, the FA Cup tie included.

The overall statistics paint an even grimmer picture, with United facing more than 20 shots in eight of their past nine Premier League games, the other being 17 against Fulham. This is an average of 24.6 shots faced in each game, 221 in all.

It suggests there are major problems at United that Ten Hag has so far been incapable of solving. He must demonstrate he can.

If Ratcliffe and his new United hierarchy really are still making up their minds, then nothing on show here will have brought the jury in.

United have an FA Cup semi-final against Championship side Coventry City to come at Wembley, as they seek to end the campaign with a trophy.

But their biggest achievements so far this season have both been against Liverpool – ending their quadruple hopes by knocking them out of the FA Cup last month, and then damaging their title bid as the race hits its final laps.

‘Liverpool can only blame themselves’

As for Liverpool, the big fear for them as they made their way back down the M62 is that their generosity – or perhaps we can call it rank incompetence on this occasion – may come back to haunt them in this tight three-way title race.

Every point dropped is damage and Liverpool can only blame themselves. There are no excuses for not winning when you have as many chances as they created here. No cursing their luck. This game should have been done and dusted by half-time.

Dominik Szoboszlai saw an early effort saved by Andre Onana and could not cash in on two other opportunities. Other openings were allowed to slip by as United slumped on the ropes when the half-time whistle sounded.

It should have been all over but it was not and, from a Liverpool point of view, there were haunting similarities with how they let the recent FA Cup quarter-final slip away.

Liverpool’s finishing was no better in the second half, with even Salah a culprit, shooting over from an angle when he should have scored after Onana pushed out Diaz’s shot. Darwin Nunez side-footed a finish back across the face of goal when he should have scored, while Diaz blazed over when he had to hit the target. The final whistle went immediately after Onana saved from Harvey Elliott.

Klopp’s side would have returned to the top of the table with a win but now, by their own doing, they have handed the title initiative to Arsenal, who won at Brighton, and allowed the always ominous reigning champions Manchester City to close the gap following their win at Crystal Palace.

Liverpool must ensure this game does not end up lingering as a very bad memory.

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