Newcastle have exposed Erik ten Hag’s false dawn at Manchester United – George Smith

For the third time this season, Erik ten Hag&aposs side, on Saturday night, went head-to-head with one of the division&aposs big hitters and lost. Anthony Gordon&aposs second half goal sealed a deserved 1-0 win for Newcastle United, who made light work of a United side with the same ambition of qualifying for next season&aposs Champions League.

Gordon&aposs tap-in, which was created by Kieran Tripper, who went close to opening the scoring himself prior to the interval with a free-kick that hit the woodwork, added to the defeats that United have suffered at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal on the road already this season. Across those three games, United have lost by a 6-1 aggregate scoreline.

With that in mind, even the most die-hard and loyal United supporters who have a ticket for the trip to Anfield to face Liverpool in a fortnight&aposs time must be considering a refund. You can already sense what the outcome will be.

United have been battered on their last two visits to the red half of Merseyside, losing 4-0 under Ralf Rangnick in April 2022 and 7-0 under Ten Hag in March 2023. Those defeats are likely to be imprinted on the minds of United&aposs players in the build-up to the trip along the M62.

You have to go back to January 2016 for the last time United toppled Liverpool at Anfield. Of the 18 players that were named in Louis van Gaal&aposs matchday squad that day, only Anthony Martial is still on the club&aposs books.

He has started each of United&aposs last two league outings and has produced chalk-and-cheese performances. You could describe United&aposs collective showings in the same way.

After producing their best away performance of the Ten Hag era against Everton last Sunday, winning 3-0, Saturday&aposs reverse at St James&apos Park marked one of their worst. Though, just like on their visit to Tyneside last season, the scoreline was not harrowing, suggesting United had been narrowly edged out, the performance was.

United were toothless in attack, so much so that their three-pronged forward line of Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho and Martial may as well have consisted of Garnacho on his own. The Argentine, who was chasing a third goal in as many games, carried the greatest threat of the trio, with both Rashford and Martial deservedly substituted just past the hour-mark and replaced by Antony and Rasmus Hojlund respectively.

Ten Hag&aposs decision to leave both Antony, though he has faced justified criticism so far this season, and Hojlund out of the starting line-up was more than questionable; both players started and performed well against Galatasaray just under 72 hours earlier. It was a decision that you could claim backfired.

However, even if the duo had started in attack, there is nothing to say that it would have made any difference to United&aposs torrid away record against their fellow big hitters. You have to go back to October 2021 for the last time United defeated a top eight team on their travels.

Under Ten Hag, they have been beaten on the road twice by Newcastle and Arsenal, as well as recorded single losses against Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham. They also failed to beat Chelsea on the road last season, drawing 1-1 and the Reds are still yet to claim an away win at a top-eight league side since October 2021.

It is a problem that, until United solve it, will halt them from being genuine title challengers again. They are less than competitive when they face a member of the division&aposs big boys on the road, often retreating in fear that the inevitable happening. And it happened again at St James&apos.

United&aposs away wins in the league so far this season have come against Burnley, Sheffield United, Fulham and Everton. Three of those four teams are currently camped inside the relegation zone, with Fulham occupying a lowly 14th.

By comparison, United&aposs away defeats have come against Tottenham, Arsenal and Newcastle. That in itself tells you where the problems.