Manchester United’s humiliating Europa League exit against Sevilla on Thursday night raises more questions about the foundations on which Erik ten Hag’s Old Trafford revival is built on.
The Red Devils were soundly beaten 3-0 by the LaLiga side to continue their topsy turvy season under the Dutch coach, who will have plenty to think about after his side capitulated in yet another big game.
With a huge FA Cup semi-final against Brighton to come on Saturday, his players will need to recover quickly and bounce back to ensure their season ends on a high.
Mail Sport’s Joe Bernstein assesses how United fell apart in Spain and how the team can move forwards from here.
Manchester United fell apart in Spain as they were knocked out of the Europa League by Sevilla following a 3-0 defeat
FEARS OF WEMBLEY EMBARRASSMENT
For a team supposedly on the up, United have had some shockers this season. 0-4 v Brentford that finished Cristiano Ronaldo, 0-7 at Anfield against Liverpool and now 0-3 against the team that sits 13th in La Liga.
United’s saving grace so far has been their ability to bounce back. After Brentford, they beat Liverpool. After Anfield, they put four past Betis. Make no mistake however, Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Brighton will be their biggest test yet.
Erik ten Hag’s side are creaking and look fatigued. There will be no Martinez, Varane or Maguire on Sunday, Rashford and Shaw don’t look fully match-fit, Martial didn’t last the game in Spain.
Tellingly, the calm head of Christian Eriksen was paraded in front of the cameras minutes after the shambles in Seville. ‘Any footballer can have a bad day,’ he said, trying to assure the United faithful they aren’t about to implode.
United are creaking and look tired, which will be a huge concern for boss Erik ten Hag (right)
The team face Brighton in the FA Cup semis this weekend – the last team they want to face now
Brighton are the last team they want to face right now. Roberto De Zerbi’s side have had a full week to prepare and are fresh off an outstanding win at Chelsea. Privately, ten Hag would love guys like Alex Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo is his team.
Even a leader at the back like Lewis Dunk would be invaluable with his two leading centre-backs both injured.
‘It’s gone,’ assessed ten Hag after seeing any hopes of a Jose Mourinho-style League Cup-Europa League double extinguished. ‘But now we have another opportunity on Sunday.’
United’s resilience this season means you wouldn’t write them off. But they looked haunted coming off the pitch in Spain. Ten Hag is calling for an immediate improvement. He’ll know a repeat performance will bring about another crushing blow at the national stadium.
DAVID DE GOER?
‘He’s been a great goalkeeper. He’s not a footballer and never will be,’ was Paul Scholes’ blunt assessment of the Spaniard who played in Sevilla as if he wanted the club to withdraw their contract offer.
We’ve been waiting for De Gea’s future to sign up as long as Tyson Fury has been threatening to get in the ring with Anthony Joshua. But it’d be interesting to see deep down if Erik ten Hag really sees him as part of the rebuild at Old Trafford.
If de Gea didn’t cover himself in glory for United’s first two goals, there was no excuse for the poor touch with his right foot that gifted Sevilla a third.
David de Gea had a nightmare while playing out from the back and his days look numbered
He knows he’s not going to get anything like his current £375,000-a-week deal but even if was paid half that, would that make him ideal for the patterns of play ten Hag eventually wants to build at the club, playing out from the back as the most successful teams in England and Europe do these days.
The mood music from United is that talks are going well, they are being respectful to their long-time No1, he’ll end up staying. But the most successful clubs have to be ruthless on occasions. What benefit is there for any party if de Gea is asked to play a style that doesn’t suit him and we get more catastrophes like Thursday night.
Footballers often get better when they’re not on the pitch. So it is that Bruno Fernandes, mocked and pilloried for his petulance and whingeing at Anfield, is now regarded as United’s potential saviour because he was suspended for the debacle in Spain.
There is no doubting Bruno’s talent and, it has to be said, his bravery in risking losing the ball in order to make key contributions.
It’s time for Bruno Fernandes to step up for Man United and rediscover his scoring touch
With Casemiro and Christian Eriksen both finally available together, this could be the time for Bruno to shine where he’s at his most effective at the top of a midfield trio.
United need the Portuguese star to rediscover his scoring touch. Having shifted positions this season, sacrificing himself for the team, he has failed to score in 15 of his last 17 United games.
But back in his rightful position, with the captain’s armband on with Harry Maguire suspended, he has to really step up and make the difference.
Ten Hag is short in the heart of defence but will be reluctant to ask Casemiro to drop back given that could affect Bruno. If he has no other option, Fred will have to come in and try and be disciplined in the middle of the park.