Old Trafford, far from being the Theatre of Dreams, gave a horrifyingly grim dose of reality for Manchester United fans as they exited Europe with a whimper on Tuesday.
United’s season, in which they had now lost half of their 24 matches in all competitions, reached new lows as they were defeated 1-0 at home by a Bayern Munich side in third gear.
Erik ten Hag’s side finished bottom of their group with just four points, their lowest total in the Champions League group stage, while the 15 goals they conceded in six games were the most ever conceded by an English team.
United have departed at the group stage for the third time in seven seasons, and this time they do not even have the consolation of the Europa League.
With a trip to Premier League leaders Liverpool this weekend – a game they lost 7-0 last season – the question is whether things are about to get worse, and how much time does Ten Hag have to turn things around.
“The fans have shown a level of patience, but there’s huge disappointment,” former Manchester United title-winner Steve Bruce told the BBC’s Football Daily program.
“As we’ve said many times before, United always appear to be two games away from a crisis.” Erik ten Hag must now strive to lift everyone’s morale, and the only way to do so is to win (at Liverpool).
“It’s a desperate situation they find themselves in.”
Ten Hag’s first season was moderately successful, as the former Ajax Amsterdam manager brought the League Cup, the club’s first trophy in six years, and re-entered the Champions League with a third-place finish in the Premier League.
It gained Ten Hag a lot of bank credit, but he’s using it up fast, even though his followers are still mostly behind him.
Despite spending 400 million pounds ($500.88 million) on new recruits since Ten Hag took over, United appear to be a team without a clear strategy or direction.
Jaap Stam, who won the Champions League with United in the treble-winning 1999 team, concerns about colleague Dutchman Ten Hag and believes United’s recent banning of several media sites amid allegations of dressing room squabbles just adds to the gloom.
“You need to have peace and quiet,” he went on to say.
“You don’t want to be distracted by things like players and the press.” It has something to do with your players as well, but he put a lot of money into the players he brought in.
“However, are they the right players?” In my perspective, they are not.”
While Jim Ratcliffe’s impending investment in the club is encouraging, the immediate issue is a trip to Anfield without suspended captain Bruno Fernandes and injured defenders Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw.
“I am trying not to think about that,” former United goalie Peter Schmeichel told CBS Sports.