In July 2022, the arrival of Erik Ten Hag brought a new sense of hope among the Manchester United fans, who had grown tired of their neighbours’ dominance of the Premier League.
Two seasons later, Ten Hag’s United have lost three of its opening five matches against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Brighton and Hove Albion. This is the club’s worst-ever start in the Premier League era.
The last time United lost three of its opening five fixtures was in the 1989-90 season in the English top division, losing to Derby County, Norwich City and Everton, respectively.
In Ten Hag’s first season, United lost its first two games of the season for the first time in 30 years but recovered well to eventually finish third, behind Manchester City and Arsenal.
With United’s last league triumph coming in the 2012-13 season - Sir Alex’s last year at the helm - let us delve deeper into United’s start to the season over the years and how the Red Devils eventually fared.
2013-14 - Passing the baton
Transitional phases are not always the easiest for clubs. Being the boss of Man United comes with a constant spotlight, and David Moyes learned that the hard way.
Backed by Sir Alex’s validation, Moyes had the huge job of overseeing the transition of Man United in the post-Ferguson era. The Scotsman had a perfect start, with a 4-1 win against Swansea City, but a goalless draw against Chelsea and losses against rival Liverpool and Man City saw the Red Devils in eighth position after five matches.
Eventually, Man United finished seventh and missed European football for the first time since 1989.
After five matches: Wins- 2, Draw-1, Losses- 2
2014-15 - Positive signs but not enough
Louis Van Gaal took charge from David Moyes after guiding the Netherlands to third place in the 2014 World Cup.
The start to the 2014-15 season was not perfect, as the United managed just one win in its first five matches and lost 1-2 to Swansea on opening day.
However, Van Gaal found his footing as the season unfolded and guided United to a fourth-place finish, which meant qualification for the Champions League playoff round.
After five matches: Win- 1, Draws-2, Losses- 2
2015-16- A trophy not enough
Van Gaal started the 2015-16 season with three wins in the first five fixtures, which included victories against Tottenham and Liverpool.
United won the FA Cup after beating Crystal Palace in the final. However, a fifth-placed finish meant that the Red Devils could not qualify for the Champions League, and the Dutchman was sacked despite guiding the Red Devils to their first trophy in the post-Ferguson era.
After five matches: Wins-3, Draw-1, Losses-1
2016-17 - Trophy-laden season
Jose Mourinho’s arrival invited mixed reactions, but the arrival of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the fans excited.
Three wins in the first three meant a perfect start for the Red Devils, but in a drastic turn of events, Mourinho saw his team win just two in the next 11.
United finished sixth in the league that season, but Mourinho guided his team to the Carabao Cup and the Europa League title, which meant that it would go on to play Champions League football despite its lowly league finish.
After five matches: Wins- 3, Draw- 0, Loss- 2
2017-18- Highest points tally since Ferguson
United’s 2017-18 season was its best-ever finish in the Premier League post-Ferguson.
It had a brilliant start to the season, remaining unbeaten in its first eight matches.
Ending with 81 points, it was United’s highest points tally since Ferguson’s reign, as well. While it would have been enough to win the title in 2015-16, Man City’s utter dominance saw Guardiola’s men reach 100 points and win the league that season.
After five matches: Wins- 4, Draw-1, Loss- 0
2018-19 - Mourinho’s sacking and ‘Ole at the wheel’
Mourinho’s ‘third-season syndrome’ had set in, and it was evident that his relationship with the dressing room had gone sour. His fallout with Pogba was public. United lost two of its first three games and could muster just seven wins in 17 league appearances. A 1-3 loss to Liverpool spelt the end of the Mourinho era, and the Portuguese got the sack.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was introduced as caretaker manager. United went on an incredible run of 10 wins out of 11, and the Champions League comeback against PSG was the cherry on the cake.
Fans had just started dreaming again, but the honeymoon period ended. Post the comeback against PSG, United slumped to eight losses in the next 12 and won just two.
This led to United finishing sixth, and the Red Devils were again out of Champions League football.
After five matches: Wins- 3, Draw- 0, Losses- 2
2019-20 - A season marred by the pandemic
Solskjaer’s first full season had its ebbs and flows. A season marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, United also saw the arrival of Bruno Fernandes - United’s most impactful signing in recent times.
The Red Devils had a disappointing start to the season, winning just three matches in their first 10, including losses against Arsenal and Liverpool.
However, Bruno’s arrival saw a change in the moods and United won nine of its last 14 games and remained unbeaten throughout the period. This led to the club finishing third, which meant United had Champions League football again.
After five matches: Wins-2, Draws- 2, Loss-1
2020-21 - A title challenge and remaining strong on the road
The season started on a low with an opening-day loss against Crystal Palace, but at face value, it was a season of more positives than negatives.
A title still eluded the Red Devils after Mourinho’s sacking, but it was the second time when United finished in second place after Ferguson’s time. The Red Devils were also in a title race till February, but unlikely results like the 1-6 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham and a 1-2 loss against Sheffield United derailed their momentum. However, United ended the season unbeaten away from home.
United had the chance of finishing the season on a high, as it reached the Europa League final against Sevilla, but lost out on penalties.
After five matches: Wins- 2, Draw-1, Losses-2
2021-22 - Ronaldo’s second stint
The biggest news from the 2021-22 season was Cristiano Ronaldo coming back to Manchester United for his second stint.
Life at Old Trafford was good, and the Red Devils seemed rejuvenated with the return of the Portuguese star-man. United won four of its first five matches, but in the next six, United could manage just one victory.
If a 2-0 loss against Man City was not demoralising enough, a 1-4 loss against Watford in the next match proved to be Solskjaer’s last. The fairytale was not meant to be.
Michael Carrick took charge of three matches as caretaker manager before Ralf Rangnick was appointed on an interim basis. There was a certain sense of optimism, given the astute tactical acumen of the German, but that quickly faded as United’s season plummeted further.
United won just three of its final 14 matches and ended the season with their lowest-ever points total in 30 Premier League seasons.
After five matches- Wins-4, Draw-1, Loss-0
Ten Hag has certainly instilled discipline in the ranks. He has made some tough calls, which he has stood by.
The United faithful want the era to change, but that is not possible overnight. Before changing things on a macro level, many micro-level changes need to happen at Old Trafford. Be it the appointment of a Director of Football or Ten Hag laying down his philosophy with an iron hand, the need of the hour is to get the team back to winning ways.
The Red Devil’s next match in the Premier League is against Burnley. Before that, a daunting Champions League encounter lies against Bayern Munich. The clock is ticking, and there is no better time for Ten Hag and his men to have a morale booster.
**All stats above are with respect to the Premier League
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