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Man Utd’s 2023/24 nightmare – a season of setbacks and struggles

It’s been a season to forget for Manchester United so far. 

Erik ten Hag’s side earned the wooden spoon in their Champions League group, finishing behind Bayern Munich, Copenhagen and Galatasaray. 

Another disappointment came in the League Cup as United’s title defence crumpled at the first hurdle, with Newcastle United thrashing the reigning champions 3-0 in the opening round.

Premier League bottom-half strugglers Nottingham Forest added insult to injury at the tail-end of 2023, capping off United’s dismal December with a 2-1 win at the City Ground.

Following a promising run of three consecutive league wins ‘to nil’ towards the end of November, Man Utd lost four of their seven top-flight outings in December (W2, D1). 

With the second half of the season already underway, the future doesn’t look bright for the Old Trafford faithful as the Red Devils trail fourth-placed Arsenal by nine points. 

Every game could be the last for under-pressure Ten Hag from now on, with United facing an uphill task to secure Champions League football amid the club’s worst campaign since 1930. 

Before surrendering a three-decade unbeaten run against Forest, Man Utd fell to a 2-0 defeat at West Ham United. It was their 13th loss in all competitions.

Ominously for the Dutch manager, the last time United lost as many games before Christmas, they finished bottom of the top flight. It perhaps best illustrates the depth of the crisis. 

There’s still time for the record-time English champions to get their stuttering campaign back on track, especially if they can reinforce their underachieving squad in January. 

However, 2023/24 has been an unmitigated disaster as we break down Man Utd’s first half of the season for you.

Old Trafford becoming happy hunting ground for visitors

Morgan Gibbs-White’s late winner halted Man Utd’s outstanding 11-game winning streak against Forest in all competitions, but the Tricky Trees could’ve ended that run already in the reverse fixture.

Led by former manager Steve Cooper, they became the first side in Premier League history to score twice within the opening four minutes at Old Trafford in late August. 

United pulled off a stunning comeback to run out 3-2 victors, making it 31 unbeaten matches at the Theatre of Dreams, yet the writings were already on the wall. 

Brighton & Hove Albion’s trip to town on September 16 knocked Ten Hag’s team from their formidable home run and opened the floodgates. 

Since an embarrassing 3-1 loss to the Seagulls, the Red Devils have lost three of their subsequent seven Premier League home games (W4), failing to score on each occasion.

Though there’s a valid excuse for losing to Manchester City, scoreless defeats to Bournemouth and Crystal Palace signified the demise of Old Trafford’s once-vaunted reputation as a fortress.

Alarming scoring problems

Ten Hag was 45 minutes away from being relieved of his duties less than three weeks after being named the Premier League Manager of The Month.

But Man Utd fought back, overhauling a 2-0 half-time deficit to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at home on Boxing Day and put a dreadful four-match scoring drought in all competitions.

It was the first time since 1992 that the Red Devils failed to find the back of the net in four consecutive matches, and it formed part of a larger, more sinister pattern. 

United’s scoring blank at the London Stadium three days before condemned them to their worst 18-game scoring start to a top-flight season since 1973/74, marking the fourth-lowest tally at this stage of a league campaign in club history.

While a second-half hat-trick against Villa and Marcus Rashford’s consolation goal at the City Ground slightly improved Man Utd’s scoring record, it’s still humiliating for a club of this stature. 

Only dead-last Sheffield United (15) and second-from-bottom Burnley (20) have netted fewer Premier League goals this season than United (22). 

Particularly sloppy on the road, they remain one of only four sides yet to hit a 10-goal landmark in the hostile setting in 2023/24, bagging nine goals on ten league travels. 

Travel sickness

Man Utd’s travel sickness is long-standing, but as 2023 neared its end, it metastasized. 

After producing their best performance on the road in an emphatic 3-0 win at Everton in late November, United’s away form has been in freefall.

Barring a goalless draw at Liverpool, in which they kept a clean sheet despite conceding 35 shots on goal, they’ve lost three of their last four league games outside Old Trafford. 

Rashford’s late strike at Forest spared Ten Hag further misery, bringing United’s rotten patch of three straight Premier League away games without scoring to a halt. 

Don’t let Man Utd’s record of four wins in their previous six top-flight games on hostile turf trick you into believing this dismal run came out of the blue. 

Two of those four victories came against promoted clubs Burnley and Sheffield United, with the remaining two arriving versus bottom-half Everton and Fulham. 

Moreover, taking the impressive triumph at Goodison Park out of the equation, United’s three remaining away league wins have yielded a single-goal margin. 

On top of that, Ten Hag has yet to familiarise himself with a test of beating a top-half opponent in their backyard. 

Before becoming the first Premier League side to register a shutout despite allowing 35+ shots on goal against Liverpool, United had lost all three previous top-flight visits to last season’s top-eight finishers.

To make things worse, they only scored once in that sequence. 

Conclusion

A long road is ahead of Man Utd, but if it’s any consolation, 2024 can hardly be worse than 2023.

Their tally of 21 defeats across all competitions was their most in a calendar year since losing 20 in 1989.

That’s not to mention they’ve already lost more games in 2023/24 than in 62 competitive matches in 2022/23.

Whether with Ten Hag or someone else at the helm, there’s a feeling that Man Utd have hit rock bottom and can only go up from this point.

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