The Touchline

Five More Minutes of Football
— Every Tuesday and Thursday

Join The Touchline - a free, twice weekly newsletter with analysis, stories and interviews from the world of football.

Are Manchester United Really THAT Bad?

5 minute read Published November 28, 2023

Honestly Garnacho, stop that! Might as well stop the count for goal of the season already. Incredible. Other than that, this was the first league game Manchester United have won by more than a single goal margin all season as well as only the second time they’ve scored more than two in a game. Not only that, but it was arguably their first game that was actually enjoyable to watch as a neutral.

Criticism has been massive and Ten Hags future has been put into question by more than one pundit. After all, he was brought in to do what he had done at Ajax; play dominant, possession based football, and that sure as heck hasn’t happened yet. 

However, after yesterday’s 3-0 win they’re sixth in the league, just two points behind Tottenham. That begs the question - are Manchester United really that bad?

The Season So Far

This is where the question gets hard to answer because after the 3-0 loss to Manchester City on the 10th match day, their record was the worst the club has had in over 60 years. 

But lately, Manchester United actually has the best form in the Premier League. They’ve not conceded in over 300 minutes and this is while playing different defensive players pretty much each game. This, of course, is because of injuries.

Team Last 6 Points
Man Utd WWLWWW 15
Arsenal WDWLWW 13
Aston Villa DWWLWW 13
Liverpool DWWDWD 12
Man City LWWWDD 11
Newcastle DWDWLW 11

Additionally, since the tough start to the season some pundits and fans have been calling for the sacking of Erik Ten Hag. The truth is that Ten Hag is the fastest manager to get to 50 wins ever as a Manchester United manager.

Injuries Holding Them Back

When Tottenham lost this weekend most thought “yeah that makes sense most of their best players are all injured”. This sympathy has not been afforded Manchester United but they’ve been playing without at least a couple of their best players every match. Here’s Manchester United’s injury record by game:

Opponent Players Out
Everton 9
Luton Town 8
Fulham 8
Manchester City 7
Sheffield United 8
Brentford FC 7
Crystal Palace 8
Burnley 10
Brighton & Hove Albion 10
Arsenal 7
Nottingham Forest 7
Tottenham Hotspur 6
Wolves 5

Since game day three they haven’t had a single game with less than seven injuries, in some games they’ve been in the double digits. It’s not just anyone either; Martinez, Shaw, Eriksen, Rashford and 

Off the pitch reflecting poorly

Part of the reason Manchester United get more criticism is because of all the nonsense off the field. For example the protracted process of first selling the club and then actually just selling 25%, with the bidding for the club being almost a completely open affair. 

And the way the club is run. By all accounts, both Carrington, the Manchester United training ground, and Old Trafford are in need of significant renovations to meet the standard of the best teams in the Premier League.

And lastly, the transfers. Every season they act like they’ve figured out how to act during a transfer window only to fall completely flat. The bad signings like Jadon Sancho and Antony, the players they very publicly missed out on like Frenkie De Jong and the players they’re unable to move on each year like Martial and Van de Beek. Just horrible transfer business, over and over.

On the Pitch Challenges

Offensively, there’s a lot of issues. Manchester United have only managed to score 16 goals. Newcastle and Brighton in seventh and eighth have scored 31 and 28 respectively. Manchester United are twelfth for goals scored, even with Nottingham Forest. They’ve a 0 goal difference.

Rashford, who looked fantastic last season, hasn’t been able to keep up his form. Rasmus Höjlund who was brought in at the beginning of this season has, at least in the league, not been getting any balls to work with. Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay are their top scorers this year. On three goals each.

Lastly, football is supposed to be entertainment but the constant injuries force Manchester United to approach their games with a more practical mindset, and it’s boring to watch. It makes it look like there’s no idea in the way they play. While Manchester City and Liverpool play very distinct brands of football, there’s no brand, no identity to the way United have played this season.

Going Forward

So are Manchester United really that bad? Yes and no. Results this season have been both terrible - the worst start in 60 years - and good - the best form in the league currently.  But the football, through a combination of injuries and out of form players, is boring to watch. Not befitting one of the biggest teams in the Premier League

For the game against Everton, both Luke Shaw and Kobbie Mainoo were back and what a difference that made. It was the first enjoyable Manchester United game of the season, for a neutral. More players are coming back from injury. Höjlund, Malacia, Evans and Eriksen are expected back within the next few games.

Martinez and Casemiro are not expected back until January though. Two of the best players in the team that finished third last year. They’ll be a big miss through the packed holiday schedule.

Manchester United had a really tough start to the season, through injuries and poor offensive efforts but the results are starting to look up. When Ten Hag get closer to a full strength squad this team could be dangerous.


Football Stories Like This, Twice a Week

Join thousands of subscribers getting The Touchline - a free, twice weekly newsletter with analysis, stories and interviews from the world of football.