Manchester United: Erik ten Hag’s masterplan after 7-0 mauling by Liverpool
Humbled and humiliated, Manchester United’s players filtered solemnly into Carrington at 9am Monday, not more than 15 hours after the final whistle had sounded on a shocking capitulation at Anfield.
David de Gea, beaten seven times by arch-rivals Liverpool, and Luke Shaw lowered the sun visors on their cars to hide their shame from the cameras as they drove into the training ground for a planned recovery session. Alejandro Garnacho tried to disappear inside a white hoodie, pulled up tightly around his face.
Team-mates, some of whom had hastily cancelled social media events planned for Monday, still wore shell-shocked expressions.
Erik ten Hag had arrived two hours earlier, seething from what he had witnessed as his team collapsed to a club record-equalling defeat by Liverpool.
By the time he gathered them for a short talk, though, the theme was one of recovery rather than recrimination.
Erik ten Hag was furious with his Manchester United players following their loss to Liverpool
Players arrived solemnly into training at 9am at Carrington on Monday morning
‘What happened doesn’t destroy all the good work we have done this season,’ was the message from the boss. He told them to be hungry to put things right. He spoke about the importance of not being depressed or losing confidence.
He said they would benefit from more sessions with Rainier Koers, the Dutch sports psychologist brought to the club by Ten Hag.
There was no replay of the game but Ten Hag did show his players selected video clips ‘to make them angry’, according to one source, just as he had tried to rile them at Anfield by demanding silence in the away dressing room so they could listen to Liverpool’s celebrations.
As usual, mentality was at the forefront of his mind. That is what Ten Hag will demand when United host Real Betis in the Europa League this week, looking to put this darkest of days behind them.
Mindset matters more to him right now than any physical shortcomings, which wasn’t the case when United faced a similar inquest after a 4-0 defeat at Brentford in his second game in charge.
On that occasion, Ten Hag summoned his players on a day off and put them through a punishment run in the August sunshine for covering 13.8km less ground than their opponents.
Ten Hag showed his players video clips of the Liverpool defeat to ‘make them angry’
United players also had extra sessions with the club’s Dutch psychologist but didn’t have to do a punishing run like they did after their first game of the season – a 4-0 loss to Brentford
The 99.01km they clocked at Anfield was their lowest since the 95.6km at Brentford, but there were mitigating circumstances.
Ten Hag’s side were coming into the game off a Carabao Cup final win over Newcastle and an unconvincing FA Cup victory over West Ham in midweek. The two days of training leading up to Liverpool are said to have been below-par.
Ten Hag knows better than anyone that his players are feeling the strain. There was no point flogging them this time. It has been a gruelling schedule and one that will fall just a game short of the club record of 66 if United continue to challenge on all fronts.
The battering by Liverpool has all but killed off United’s title hopes. They are three points further adrift of Arsenal and Manchester City than they were at the start of the weekend, and their goal difference has been smashed to smithereens.
Ten Hag has been quick to silence any talk of quadruples, but there was a growing feeling among the players that the Premier League title was a genuine target.
In the players’ WhatsApp group, they had spoken about the prospect of catching the top two.
The feelgood factor going into the Liverpool game was what made the collapse so shocking.
The battering by Liverpool has all but killed off United’s hopes of lifting the league title
It didn’t help Ten Hag’s mood that prior transfer target Cody Gakpo netted a brace
A week after dancing on the Wembley turf, Ten Hag must have wanted the green grass of Anfield to swallow him up. Instead of relishing the hostility, as he predicted, his side fell apart. Afterwards, he tore into them for a lack of professionalism and said they were lucky not to be travelling home with the fans.
It didn’t help Ten Hag’s mood that previous transfer target Cody Gakpo had scored twice for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Asked if his players had said anything to him, Ten Hag replied curtly: ‘No, I didn’t give them the chance. I’ve only given my opinion about it.’
Some of the players were ready to leave Anfield barely 20 minutes after the final whistle. Jadon Sancho was one of the first out, then Anthony Elanga.
Assistant manager Steve McClaren left ‘looking like he had seen a ghost’ according to a witness. Football director John Murtough was asked how he felt. ‘Had better days, that’s for sure,’ came the reply. Bruno Fernandes had already spoken to Sky Sports and was all talked out. ‘I have no more words to say,’ he muttered.
When United lost 4-0 there last April, interim boss Ralf Rangnick could still bring himself to share a hug with Klopp. On Sunday, Ten Hag strode straight from the press room to the team bus with a face like thunder. He knows how damaging a loss like this can be.