Out-of-favour defender Harry Maguire featured off the bench for Man United today. Alamy Stock Photo

Are Man United going backwards under Ten Hag?

The Red Devils suffered a demoralising late loss away to Arsenal today.

NOT MANY people would have foreseen Man United finishing one of their biggest games of the season with a defensive pairing of Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans.

But then, the Red Devils have been in disarray and struggling due to a lack of leadership behind the scenes for years now, so perhaps the degree of unpredictability on the pitch should not be such a surprise.

Evans made his first appearance since 9 May 2015 against Crystal Palace, when he also came off the bench in a team that featured Wayne Rooney, Daley Blind, Radamel Falcao and Ashley Young among others.

The 35-year-old Northern Ireland international’s recent return to the club on a one-year contract was a surprise, and it was initially anticipated to be more of an off-field role.

Maguire, meanwhile, has looked on the verge of leaving the club in recent times — earlier this month, West Ham made a joint bid for the England international and Scott McTominay, but the move fell through ultimately.

Of all the British clubs, only Chelsea — who have bought over £1 billion worth of players since the Todd Boelhy era began just over a year ago — had a greater net spend than Man United in the latest transfer window.

Yet they still have ended up with two defenders who are essentially perceived as relics of past failures following injuries today to Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelöf.

The sight of €75 million summer signing Rasmus Højlund finally making his debut off the bench will have provided fans with some encouragement, but the visitors still started the game with Anthony Martial leading the line — the Frenchman is in his ninth season at the club and has largely flattered to deceive during that period.

Similarly, the midfield trio of Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen has looked too brittle at times, with the latter defensively suspect and not staying close enough to Martin Ødegaard for Arsenal’s equaliser.

United still have summer signings Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat to come into the side, but whether they can adapt to a new team and environment in such pressurised circumstances remains to be seen.

In saying that, Ten Hag’s men will feel a little unlucky today. They lost the game literally by the narrowest of margins when you consider how tight the offside call was denying what surely would have been a late match-winning goal from Alejandro Garnacho.

The manager certainly felt his side deserved better.

“The performance is right, we played a good game but everything went against us. And then you don’t win the game,” the Dutch coach told Sky Sports.

“You saw the game, it’s not offside, that is the wrong angle, then a penalty on Hojlund, we concede a goal and that is a foul on Jonny Evans.”

In truth though, the Gunners were well worth the victory despite the slightly fortuitous circumstances in which it arrived.

They dominated possession (55%) and registered far more shots than United — 17 (five on target) compared to 10 (two on target).

There is no doubt that last season was a step in the right direction for the Old Trafford outfit, with highlights including a League Cup triumph and a significant leap from finishing sixth the season before to third.

However, this year, with City as dominant as ever, and the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham showing signs of considerable improvement, two losses from four largely unconvincing performances suggests the Red Devils may struggle to repeat, let alone build on the achievements of 2022-23.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle United have to overcome is in the boardroom.

The club was put up for sale in November of last year and negotiations with various interested parties have been taking place ever since.

However, the latest newspaper reports suggest the American Glazer owners have made a U-turn on these plans after failing to find a suitable buyer.

Speaking on Sky Sports today, Gary Neville conveyed a sense of frustration that undoubtedly extends to a considerable portion of United’s fan base.

Addressing speculation the Glazers would not sell, the club legend said: “It’s just a game for them. They think it’s just a toy

“Of course, they’re going to sell. They’re desperate for money. They can’t even compete on FFP anymore.

“Manchester United are talking like they’re a mid-table club when it comes to the transfer market.

“We’re talking about one of the highest revenue-generating clubs in the world.

“So my point is, Chelsea, Arsenal, all these clubs can sign big players, Manchester United are scrambling around on FFP.

“I know they’ve had issues with losses during Covid and that could be thrown in as an excuse, but the reality of it is, today was a fantastic game of football, but it still won’t change the fact that they’ve got owners that are messing around with the football club. And I’m not going to stop talking about it because it’s a big problem.”

The positivity brought by Ten Hag last year quelled some of this widespread sense of disillusionment with the hierarchy, but the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of the club is bound to have a negative impact on players and staff.

Neville went on to describe his flailing former team’s “depressed ambition,” suggesting a “toxicity exists” behind the scenes, and their performances on the pitch since the campaign’s outset have done little to dispel these troubling claims.

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