Erik ten Hag will not repeat the same error. Manchester United made their last appearance at Liverpool.
Liverpool scented blood the last time Manchester United visited Anfield. This time, United are the sharks on the prowl.
The last time Manchester United visited Anfield, it was a matter of how many. How many goals would Liverpool need to win? The correct answer was four.
The question now for United is how many trophies they can win. Regardless of how unlikely a clean sweep seems, the answer is the same: four.
Liverpool defeated Manchester United 4-0 319 days ago. That night, Ralf Rangnick said that United would need ten new players. He compared the squad reconstitution to open-heart surgery two days later. You wouldn’t have found a heart in last season’s team.
Erik ten Hag has only signed one player fewer than the ten Rangnick recommended, however four have been on loan and Martin Dubravka’s strange tenure ended on New Year’s Day.
Rangnick’s advisory contract was shredded before it became operative, only six days into Ten Hag’s official tenure, because Ten Hag and Rangnick did not sing from the same hymnsheet on recruitment.
Rangnick’s press briefings, which were as sharp as a surgeon’s knife, are all United fans will miss. There were press conferences, but there was little pressing from the players. Chris Wood, a 30-year-old Dutchman, has pressed Ten Hag.
Wout Weghorst is one of the players who best exemplifies Ten Hag’s coaching abilities. Weghorst has failed to live up to the job he was bought for, with one goal in 13 appearances, a dreadful record equivalent to Garry Birtles and Diego Forlan.
Ten Hag has capitalized on Weghorst’s interaction by instructing him to drop deep, allowing speedier forwards to rush ahead of him. It was responsible for Marcus Rashford’s game-winning goal in the League Cup final.
Ten Hag attributed Weghorst’s contribution to all three of United’s goals against West Ham. “I thought he was one of the greatest players on the field. I believe he was involved in seeing the corner, and perhaps he was in front when he came up with Harry (Maguire) to force the opponent’s own goal.
“I think the goal from Garnacho he was pressing in switch of play and definitely in the third goal he gave a good press and forced the opponent to make a mistake where Fred scored.
“He understands positioning in and out of possession and he is doing a really good job for the team.”
The United fans who are ushered into the Anfield Road End have entire faith in Ten Hag, which is why the presence of a one-goal on-loan Burnley striker in their starting XI is not reason for concern. Weghorst is a physical match for Virgil van Dijk, and his selfless running allows teammates to flourish.
That should be a requirement for any United player, but Weghorst is clearly at home at the club. Ten Hag has guaranteed that every United newcomer is invested in representing the club after years of the dressing room kowtowing to prima donnas on the verge of leaving.
Paul Pogba’s most recent outing was at Anfield, where he lasted 10 minutes and was booed by Liverpool fans, just three days after a militant contingent yelled at him to “f—k off” during a tense win against Norwich at Old Trafford. For some fans, the only positive from United’s 4-0 defeat was that Pogba never wore a United jersey again.
On Merseyside that evening, you could sense panic in the United camp. Blood scented with Liverpool. Rangnick shifted to a three-man defense, and United were breached within five minutes. Ten Hag has not deviated from United’s steadfast 4-2-3-1 formation for any opponent.
Last April, Phil Jones began his second game in three years at Anfield. He is now an impromptu pundit who refers to Manchester United as “them” and was not present for the celebratory shots at Wembley. Jones played 45 minutes at Anfield and has since played 26 minutes.
Liverpool and Manchester United have a 44-point difference since last season, when Jurgen Klopp’s squad ended 34 points ahead of United, who are just historically rivals. Liverpool were intimidating and nearly invincible.
The lively away end at Selhurst Park on the final day of last season demonstrated the anxiety Liverpool instills in United supporters. They began to celebrate after learning that City had come back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Aston Villa 3-2, preserving the Treble in the face of a Liverpool quadruple.
“You Scouse b——s,” the United away-dayers chanted repeatedly, before breaking into a chorus of ’20 times, Man United’. Manchester was united on the fifth anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack, when both United and City wore worker bees on their jerseys.
Ten Hag’s stint began with a 4-0 pre-season friendly triumph over Liverpool in Bangkok, in which Klopp used three different outfield Xs. United collected the Bangkok Cup to add to their hand luggage, but the outcome was insignificant. Ten Hag did not hold a post-match press conference. The important one arrived 41 days later.
United’s thrilling victory against Liverpool in August – their first in the league against them in four and a half years – was more significant than the premature timing implied. United used the mutiny of the protesting fans and the pessimism of the generational nadir at Brentford nine days earlier to completely dominate Liverpool in the first 20 minutes.
Liverpool had drew their previous two games and were not at their best. For months, everyone has been waiting for Liverpool to revert to their former selves. They thrashed Bournemouth 9-0 five days after losing to United, beat City in October, and won at Tottenham.
But, Klopp’s fantastic team came to an end last season. Rangnick claimed Liverpool had “25 Formula One racing cars,” but several engines were operating on empty.
United has not won at Anfield since January 2016, and they have scored only once in their last seven visits. “That is the next step we must take,” Ten Hag stated on Thursday.
That is United’s longest winless streak on the red side of Stanley Park since the 1970s, when their solitary victory came in a ‘away’ game against Arsenal in August 1971. After hooligans threw knives into the away end during a game the previous season, United were barred from playing at Old Trafford for two games.
Liverpool will walk onto the Bernabeu turf on Wednesday down 5-2 on aggregate. If Real Madrid defeats Liverpool again, Klopp’s prospects of winning the Champions League are nil. United may still be in contention for four.
It’s a different 4-0 this time.