Johnny Nicholson: You don't get time at a club the size of Manchester United

Talking Points: United misery, Everton early-season form and the Battle at the Bridge - The Sequel
Johnny Nicholson: You don't get time at a club the size of Manchester United

CRESTFALLEN: Manchester United's manager Erik ten Hag.

Down in the boondocks with Manchester United.

It was a first half unlike any other United have suffered in the modern era. Brentford made them look amateurish, they made themselves look amateurish. Their starting 11 cost over £450 million, Brentford £55 million.

Finding new ways to lose, United conceded two goals from two ridiculous, schoolboy errors with David de Gea letting the ball slip through his hands, then giving Christian Eriksen a hospital pass right in front of his own goal, only to see it robbed off the Dane and put in the net. They had clearly been told to pass it out from the back, splitting the centre backs, but de Gea is not good enough with the ball at his feet to do that. After 25 minutes, clearly spooked by the Bees high pressing, he began to boot it long but the damage was already done.

After last week's false 9 disaster, this week, Christian Eriksen played as a defensive midfielder this week. It goes without saying that he is not a defensive midfielder. He may find himself in goal next week at this rate. What is Erik ten Hag thinking?

4 - 0 down after 35 minutes, Brentford pressured more, sprinted more, ran more. Ten Hag looked dejected, humiliated and embarrassed by the clown car that he was in charge of.

In the second half, with the game lost and all jeopardy gone, United relaxed a little and knocked it around better, albeit with little purpose, proof in itself that they are simply not mentally strong enough to compete.

Their next game is at Old Trafford against Liverpool. Play like this again and Liverpool will absolutely destroy them. They are bottom of the league having scored once and conceded six. Their confidence is totally shot, they are playing without pride or motivation. Defensively they look scared on the ball and slow off it. They’re devoid of ideas going forward and lose the ball cheaply. They hardly press and when they do it seems to be random and not part of an overarching team. plan. It is nothing short of disastrous.

Is Erik ten Hag going to be Erik 10 Games?

How many defeats will the board tolerate before they sack the Dutchman? It’s OK saying he needs time, but you don’t get time at a club the size of Manchester United where humiliation comes quickly. With games against Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester and Arsenal to come next, if he survives to his tenth game he’ll have also played Crystal Palace, Leeds, Manchester City and Everton. 

Almost none of those games looks winnable for them. On current form, most of those teams can look forward to scoring four or more times. While no-one can blame the Dutchman for the state of the club, something will have to be done to stop the slide and literally the only thing that can be done is sacking the manager.

Lightweight Lisandro Martínez.

How he earned the nickname ‘the butcher’ which suggests he is slicing and dicing forwards, is a mystery because for the second time in a week he turned in a dog's dinner of a performance, easily beaten in the air by Ben Mee for Brentford’s third. This despite the fact that he was fouling Mee and Mee was falling to the ground as he beat the Argentinian to the ball. For a player who is supposedly aggressive, he looked easily brushed off. That’s another £50 million wasted. Signing a 5’ 9” relatively lightweight centre back is beyond understanding and putting him alongside Harry Maguire, who is hardly a reassuring figure these days, a sort of madness. 

THE RIGHT FIT?:Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez.
THE RIGHT FIT?:Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez.

Martinez is no Fabio Cannavaro and is constantly out jumped and bullied by the taller more physical boys. Hooked at half-time, he should be nowhere near the first team on this form. He spent three years at Ajax under Erik ten Hag, so presumably, the manager fancied him and thought he could do a job for United. If so, he was wrong, very, very wrong. He can’t. And the fact that ten Hag believed he could, suggests the Dutchman is not in touch with what will be required in the Premier League. And that should be worrying for Manchester United because if he didn’t understand this, what other crucial gaps in his knowledge are there?

Brilliant Brentford.

They are the epitome of everything United are not. Well coached, well organised, well motivated. They play in a system where everyone knows what they’re doing. They know what their strengths are and they play to them. They play direct, fast running football, press high and hard in the final third, win corners and free kicks, force and capitalise on mistakes. 

They often surrender possession in the middle third so that they can have virtually everyone behind the ball when it is in their own defensive third and then break quickly with pace. The fact they only had 35% possession against United but put them to the sword illustrates how effective they are when they do have the ball. 

Add to that the fantastic Brentford Community stadium which is a noisy hostile ground for visitors and you’ve got a side that can brush hapless wannabees like Manchester United aside effortlessly. They have a real identity and play thoroughly entertaining football. Maybe United should’ve appointed Thomas Frank.

Disillusioned Brendan.

In his post-game interviews after losing 4 - 2 to Arsenal, Brendan Rodgers cut a very despondent figure. The club has not brought any players in and it seems fairly obvious that the glory days are over at the King Power and a substantial reboot of the squad is required. They couldn’t compete with Arsenal, though the Gunners invited them to do so, and he had no resources to introduce to change the situation. Does he really want to spend the season flirting with relegation and finishing mid-table? 

No, he absolutely doesn’t. It’s possible he was looking so morose to provoke the owners into buying a lot of new players in the last couple of weeks on the transfer window, but it seemed genuine. A couple more defeats could well see him leaving ‘by mutual consent’ and seeking a new challenge.

Southampton are delaying the inevitable.

Ralph Hassenhutl sat in the ejector seat at 2 - 0 down at home against Leeds and it looked like his days were numbered. However, a two goal revival may have saved him for a few more weeks, but it is all just delaying the inevitable. This was Southampton’s dilemma all in one game, capable of both disarray and creativity. All of which is fine as a temporary trend, but when it becomes endemic in the club’s DNA, then something has to change at some point. They are drifting and aimless and that tends to eventually lead to relegation.

Who is worse than Everton?

Another loss, this time to Aston Villa, was not a surprise. Everton need a striker, preferably two. Injuries are ravaging the squad and if that wasn’t enough, they’ve got Frank Lampard in charge, a man with no experience of dealing with a club that is injury ravaged which has no strikers. Which is how the Toffees ended up with Anthony Gordon as a striker once again. Gordon is a wholehearted player, puts in a shift and is very willing, but is not a natural striker and didn’t get much change out of the newly restored Tyrone Mings. 

BAD START: Everton manager Frank Lampard.
BAD START: Everton manager Frank Lampard.

While the 2-1 scoreline looks close, in truth Villas should’ve won by more with Everton only perking up with 15 minutes to go when all was already lost. On current form there are not many worse teams in the Premier League than Everton.

Gabriel Jesus; a new Arsenal hero.

Like a dog who has been let off the leash in the park and is running around happily, unable to believe it's got all of this freedom to do exactly whatever it wants, he looks utterly liberated. Playing under Pep Guardiola, while successful, doesn’t always look much fun, as the boss varies from being right in your face, to ignoring you and generally behaving on the touchline like someone suffering from a manic episode. He played second fiddle to Sergio Aguero and was stuck out wide. 

Now, Mikel Arteta is playing him as the main striker with a mission to bag as many goals as possible and the results so far are fantastic. He scored two against Leiecester , made two assists and looked very dangerous throughout the game. While there are still questions about the robustness of their defence, the early signs are that he is transforming Arsenal into a really potent attacking unit.

Which is the real Mitrović?

Last week Aleksandar Mitrović was the all conquering hero with two goals against Liverpool, this week, he was a transformed man. This Mitrović was ineffective and took and missed a poor penalty which would’ve given his team a win. Last week he looked like he was carrying last season’s form into this campaign, on Saturday he looked like the striker who scored three goals in the top flight two years ago. Which is the real man?

Chelsea v Spurs 

The Blues put on a confident, well thought out and at times sophisticated display which saw them passing through Spurs time and again. With new boy Marc Cucurella enjoying himself up and down the left, Reece James all non-stop energy on the right and Ruben Loftus-Cheek with Mason Mount drifting between the lines and playing in pockets, Chelsea ticked over like a well-oiled machine and left Spurs looking rather lumpen and unimaginative at half time, unable to really get near their opponents, something the 32% possession confirmed. 

Kalidou Koulibaly’s goal was a superb strike and gave Chelsea a well-deserved lead. Their passing was excellent all afternoon, sharp, crisp and one-touch quick. They should’ve won the game and were easily the better side.

ARGY BARGY: Head Coachs' Antonio Conte of Tottenham Hotspur and Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea square up to each other. (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)
ARGY BARGY: Head Coachs' Antonio Conte of Tottenham Hotspur and Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea square up to each other. (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)

However, Antonio Conte’s ranting and raving on the touchline seemed to invest Spurs with some more second half grit and although still outplayed, equalised. With the two managers squaring up to each other, which, given Thomas Tuchel looks like he’s made out of Twiglets would not be a fair fight, the last 20 minutes was an excellent contest. 

Reece James scored from a right side overload. He was excellent all afternoon, all action and yet doesn’t seem to break sweat. Still only 22, he’s such a huge talent. But Kane’s goal gave each side a point. Both managers got yellow cards and then, following another bit of stropping at each other, red cards at the end of the game. Like cats, managers and players never actually fight, they just puff themselves up and make a lot of noise.

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