Is this the most precarious position that Manchester United as a club have found themselves in for a very long time?
There is a current feeling of underachievement on a mass scale, where even the victories under Louis van Gaal are greeted with a sense of papering over the cracks of a team barely recognisable to that of just a few years ago where silverware was a formality. Now, hardly even a shadow of their successful predecessors.
In one of the most open and unpredictable Premier League seasons for a while, it’s unclear what United’s predicament will be come May, but what is clear is that it could be worse – United fans, you could be waking up the morning after each of the following ten results once again, with a sense of crushing disappointment that’s seldom felt when pledging your allegiances to a club with such rich history and longevity at the top of the English game.
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2005/06: Benfica 2-1 Man United (December 2005)
An agonising and premature end to a European campaign for United that started so brightly; after comfortably seeing off Hungarian side Debrecen 6-0 on aggregate in qualifying, United took four points and top spot after two games in Champions League Group D.
But from there it all went wrong – just two points from their remaining four matches ensured United finished bottom of the group and out of Europe altogether, missing the safety net of the then-UEFA Cup that comes with third place.
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Taking this into account, the defeat in Portugal to Benfica in the final fixture cannot be held solely responsible for this particular failure, but the fact United went there and threw away an early Paul Scholes goal advantage when a draw would have seen them through makes the consequences even more gut-wrenching, and ended an 11-year run of qualifying for the next phase.
2006/07: Southend 1-0 Man United (November 2006)
A day after Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 20 years in charge at Old Trafford, United spectacularly failed in their defence of the League Cup and crashed out to Championship strugglers Southend.
As holders, a routine victory for United was expected, especially considering that Southend’s season up until that point had been marred with misery; two league wins from 16 since the start of the campaign, actually managing more victories on the League Cup run that set them on course for the United encounter.
The match proved to be anything but routine. With nothing to lose, Southend gave it their all and a brilliant 30-yard free-kick from top scorer Freddy Eastwood proved to be the difference between the sides and sent the Essex club into the quarter-finals. Not even future Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo could inspire United to salvage anything from the game.
2007/08: Man United 0-2 Coventry (September 2007)
Just under a year after the humiliation at Southend and another early League Cup exit to a Championship club was in store. Albeit Coventry were enjoying a successful opening to the season under Iain Dowie, but that still doesn’t compensate for a lacklustre United performance in front of their home fans.
Ferguson’s side paid the ultimate price for fielding an entirely different starting XI from the weekend prior, with Maltese forward Michael Mifsud netting a brace either side of half-time to see off the young United side that had Dong Fangzhou leading the line.
Mifsud poached the opener from a low cross and then thumped in his second following a counter attack to complete a comfortable victory where he even had various opportunities to take the match ball home. The United youngsters given an opportunity to impress, were a far cry from the Class of 92 and most ended up exposed as severely out of their depth.
2008/09: Man United 1-4 Liverpool (March 2009)
Despite both clubs having local rivals within almost immediate proximity, the Man United Liverpool fixture has always been one of the Premier League’s most heated and fiercest derbies.
Coming into the second meeting of the season in 2008/09, United were leading the pack and in form as rich as it is possible to get with 11 straight league victories and without a league defeat in over four months. In contrast, Liverpool’s title challenge had somehow derailed after consistently dropping points, and they knew defeat at Old Trafford would leave them with an enviable task of clawing back a 10-point gap with just nine games to go.
United took the lead through a Ronaldo penalty, but found themselves trailing at the break. In a valiant attempt to reverse the score-line, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov were introduced just after 70 minutes, but soon after Liverpool extended their lead and confirmed the humiliation with a brilliant lob from Andrea Dossena in the final minute – one of the Italian’s fondest memories in English football, coupled with complete disbelief for the on-looking United faithful.
2009/10: Man United 0-1 Leeds United (January 2010)
While Leeds were embarking on their downward spiral to England’s third tier, their Northern rivals were winning titles and trophies as per usual, including three back-to-back Premier League crowns from 2006 to 2009. Fortunes couldn’t have been more contradictory.
After two seasons of regrouping in League One and successive play-off defeats, Leeds were on course for promotion and arrived at Old Trafford in high spirits ahead of their FA Cup third round encounter. A United starting XI containing the likes of Rooney, Berbatov and Welbeck could not find a way past the Leeds’ defence as the Yorkshire side held onto Jermain Beckford’s 19-minute opener to inflict a humiliating early exit from the competition on the hosts.
It was the first and only time in the FA Cup that Sir Alex Ferguson suffered defeat in the third round as well as to a team in a lower division.
2010/11: West Ham 4-0 Man United (November 2010)
In the midst of a successful and, up until this point, unbeaten campaign of 29 matches stretching back to the end of the previous 09/10 season, came this seemingly out of nowhere League Cup quarter final mauling at Upton Park.
Bottom of the Premier League after a woeful start to the season, West Ham were still not expected to be troubled by a much-changed United side, featuring Bebe as one of the key goal threats, but they proved all doubters wrong to condemn United to their heaviest margin of defeat in just over nine years.
Worse for visitors that night was the fact that former United youngster Jonathon Spector hit a first-half double against the side that originally brought him to England from the United States to put West Ham firmly in control, before Carlton Cole completed the rout with a double of his own inside ten second half minutes. A defeat was bad enough for United, but by four goals entailed a complete shambles unlike anything fans had seen in a long, long time.
2011/12: Man United 1-6 Man City (October 2011)
Not just any thrashing, but a thrashing to your city rivals and title challengers in an experiment of humiliation that ended up having a significant impact on the final landing place of the Premier League trophy.
Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and David Silva all got in on the act to inflict United’s heaviest ever Premier League loss, which, at one point after clawing back a consolation to make the score 1-3, appeared to be just a disheartening defeat. However, it soon turned into a full-blown disaster as United catastrophically imploded and City ran riot, scoring three further goals in the final few minutes to confirm the derby embarrassment.
Perhaps the ultimate disappointment came in the final minute of the final match of the season when City snatched the title from United’s grasp, but this particular match will always be cited for the repercussions it would come to have as the start of the shift in power that sees such a monumental gap between the sides today.
2012/13: West Brom 5-5 Man United (May 2013)
It’s hard to find a result of genuine misery and disappointment during Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant last season in management, which epitomised everything that had made his teams so feared and so successful over the previous 24 years, and wrestling the Premier League crown back from Manchester City to leave his beloved club at the very top of the English football hierarchy.
But then there was Fergie’s final ever match at West Brom, which proved incredibly memorable for not exactly all the right reasons. Cruising into a 5-2 lead with just under half an hour to play, Fergie could afford to relax knowing his United side had never thrown away a three-goal advantage; that was until today of all days. West Brom levelled the match with three goals in the final 10 minutes to snatch a 5-5 draw and ensure it wasn’t all smiles at the final whistle.
Not that it mattered much when the squad were soon parading with the Premier League trophy, but still not quite the script or send-off that the players would’ve liked to have given their most successful manager of all time.
2013/14: Man United 0-1 Everton (December 2013)
United’s first season without Sir Alex Ferguson was always going to be tough, but perhaps not quite as tough as it turned out to be under David Moyes.
There were many results that could be singled out from this campaign as Moyes’ United set all kinds of unfortunate records in a dismal defence of their title, but the home defeat to the club Moyes left for United was a significant one that piled on the air of misery at Old Trafford.
With the match petering towards a goalless stalemate, Costa Rican left back Bryan Oviedo popped up on the end of a low cross that deceived the entire United backline to slide in the opener four minutes from time and give Everton a priceless victory.
In his 11 successful years on Merseyside, Moyes had never managed more than a point against United, so it was all the more frustrating that his new side should fall to the team he left to further pursue his managerial career.
2014/15: MK Dons 4-0 Man United (August 2014)
With Moyes out of the picture, United invested in a man boasting bags of experience and success at every club he had managed, but it was far from a smooth transition to English football for Dutchman Louis van Gaal, United’s first foreign manager.
Still searching for his first competitive win in England after two league matches, United visited the MK Dons in the second round of the League Cup. Free from European distractions, this season was United’s chance to really push back to the top of the tree in all domestic competitions; it’s just a shame that the League One side were in no mood to allow that to happen.
In a humiliating night for all those connected to the Manchester club, the Dons quite incredibly ran out 4-0 winners with Will Grigg and Arsenal-loanee Benik Afobe both at the double. Having spent over £170-million in the summer, the result was one that United supporters wouldn’t have dared think possible prior to kick-off; the words worst case scenario consequently spring to mind.
United fans, do you agree? Are there any other moments or defeats that stand out for you over the past decade?