Erik ten Hag wanted a win more than anything (and probably needed it too, to be fair, given the thin thread with which he hangs on to his job) but he did not get it. Instead, his Manchester United side put on a calamity of epic proportions, somehow managing to combine their most impressive performance of the season with not one but two collapses.
The frailty deep within the heart of the club once again bit with venom. The great work of Bruno Fernandes, Rasmus Hojlund, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others being thrown away by a mentality weaker than garage coffee. Wilting like spinach under heat.
It&aposs left United in a perilous position and one that will be almost impossible to climb out from. They are now bottom of Group A behind FC Copenhagen and will probably need to defeat two teams who have already beaten them to go through. United would have to defeat Galatasaray in Istanbul for the first time and then pray that Bayern Munich heavily rotate their side after safely finishing top at Old Trafford to stand a chance.
It&aposs just about within the realm of possibility but the odds are against a United side who don&apost seem to have a strong enough chin for this sort of slugfest. But despite a disastrous night in Copenhagen, Ten Hag might have just got what he needed.
Injuries have wreaked havoc on United all season. It can&apost excuse the steep decline Ten Hag&aposs side has gone through but it does help explain it. The Dutchman has been unable to consistently name a settled side or find his strongest one as a result. Such instability is bound to put everyone off balance.
But in Copenhagen Ten Hag finally managed to stumble upon what appeared to be his strongest team. Before Marcus Rashford&aposs red card decended the game into anarchy, United were putting in their best performance of the campaign by a considerable distance.
They had gone ahead within minutes with a brilliantly crafted goal, the first strike of the season seemingly created through an actual plan and build-up play rather than a hit-and-hope shot or set piece. Then they doubled the lead with a blistering counter as Hojlund grabbed his second. A much-needed boost for a striker who has struggled to find the back of the net.
The set up worked wonders. Alejandro Garnacho had perhaps his brightest showing as a starter for the club, creating the second goal, being a nuisance throughout and mucking in defensively. Marcus Rashford was on the right, a position he usually struggles in, but linked up well with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and looked a threat. The first semblance of a relationship between Hojlund and Fernandes were beginning to be unearthed, too.
Perhaps most importantly, the &aposmidfield balance&apos that Ten Hag said his side had been missing so far looked to have been found in an unlikely combination. Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen worked very well together as a double pivot, with the former bombing on across the pitch – setting up the opener – and the latter sitting deep and using his range of passing to dictate United&aposs play.
It&aposs a shame the red card meant the partnership was ended at half-time but United&aposs midfield has not worked as soundly all season. The combination must be partnered again this weekend. As should the rest of the front six players.