OLIVER HOLT: Being in that United team is a stain against your name

OLIVER HOLT: Craven, pathetic, spineless, gutless, feckless, petulant, immature, pitiful, wretched. I could go on… I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a team fold so suddenly in an English club game

  • Man United’s 7-0 loss will live with their players for the rest of their careers 
  • United’s display brought back memories of Brazil’s 7-1 defeat against Germany
  • No one will ever call this bunch of United players tough again after their defeat

There was a great victory at Anfield on Sunday evening but there was a momentous defeat, too, and the defeat was more compelling.

Liverpool recorded a historic triumph over their fiercest rivals but the 7-0 scoreline was about the agony of loss. Most of all, it was about Manchester United. It was about their abject surrender. It was about their startling capitulation. It was not that they lost. It was the way that they lost and what it says about them and how they can recover.

Defeats like that leave scars. They carry cultural significance. There are lop-sided games and then there are games like the one that took place at Anfield where the stage and the opponent lend them a deeper meaning.

No one who was there will ever forget the scenes at the Estadio Mineirao in 2014 when Brazil were humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals of a World Cup taking place on their own soil. Anfield on Sunday night carried echoes of being in Belo Horizonte nine years ago.

That was about the way that the losers lost, too. Brazil were shambolic. It felt as though they gave up. They lost their pride, just as Manchester United’s players lost theirs. Germany scored at will, just as Liverpool did. They walked the ball into the net. The enduring image is not of any of the Germany goals but of the Brazil defender David Luiz crouching on the turf in a kind of foetal position, grieving for the blow that was being inflicted on Brazil’s national psyche and the country’s very identity.

Manchester United produced a shambolic performance in their 7-0 loss against Liverpool

United’s abject surrender to Liverpool will leave scars and carry cultural significance

Their defeat at Anfield echoed memories of watching Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany live

I spoke to the Brazilian journalist and academic, Eduardo Mack, on Monday morning and he and his young son were waking up in Rio, already talking about the Liverpool-United result and drawing parallels with the agony of the Mineirao. His son had found a comedy clip of people pretending to be in the stadium in 2014 with Brazil 7-0 down, saying they still believed Brazil would stage a comeback.

‘It has become a reference point,’ Mack said. ‘If you want to refer to something tragic or something really bad when you’re with friends, you say, “like the 7-1”. It is something that is going to be haunting us for many years. It has become a part of our culture that we wish was not there.’

For United, part of the trauma of Sunday evening lay in the fact it was so unexpected. ‘I’ve never been more relaxed coming here in the last nine years as a Manchester United fan,’ Sky’s Gary Neville said to Graeme Souness before the match. ‘Seriously?’ Souness asked him. ‘Honestly,’ Neville said, ‘do you know, this bunch are tough.’

I agreed with Neville at the time. I think plenty did. But tough? No one will ever call these United players tough again. Never, ever. I can think of plenty of other adjectives for a lot of them: craven, pathetic, spineless, gutless, feckless, petulant, immature, pitiful, wretched. I could go on. Most of the descriptions have been used about them already anyway. I don’t think I have ever seen a team fold so comprehensively, so suddenly in an English club game.

Being in that United line-up will be like a stain against your name. It will stay with you for the rest of your career. It’s the opposite of winning a medal. Not something to celebrate and keep in a frame or a case but something to try to wipe away. A lot of reputations are going to take an awfully long time to recover. It may be a while before anyone has the nerve to talk about Lisandro Martinez as ‘the butcher’ again. Butchers are supposed to be fearsome, right. Martinez was last seen being put on his backside by Mo Salah and bullied by Liverpool’s front three.

Being in that United line-up will be a stain in the name of all their players involved in the game 

Players like Lisandro Martinez who have impressed this season failed to show up and it’s unlikely his ‘butcher’ nickname will be used anytime soon after United’s heavy defeat

No one will call United’s players tough again after their spineless, wretched performance

And are we supposed to admire Raphael Varane because he shouted at the rest of United’s players to applaud the fans at the end of the match? Do me a favour. It’s a radical idea but the fans might have been more appreciative if Varane had done a bit more to stop seven goals being stuck past him in United’s defence. Save the empty crowd-pleasing gestures for another time.

Luke Shaw lost his nerve, Diogo Dalot was a liability, Casemiro the Killer turned into an anonymous pussycat, utterly outplayed by a Liverpool midfield that is supposed to be past it, Fred was Fred, Antony danced around the edges like a gadfly, contributing nothing of substance, Marcus Rashford missed United’s big chance, and Wout Weghorst looked limited, which is what he is.

We’ll save the best for last because Bruno Fernandes had been given the full treatment already. And he deserves it. He was the United captain but when the going got tough, he melted away into a pool of frothing, whingeing nothingness. Fernandes seems to think leadership is moaning and cheating and manhandling one of the referee’s assistants. It isn’t. He is a fine footballer and a Carabao Cup winner. Maybe he has reached his limit.

So how do United recover? This is a team that was supposed to be founded on character even more than ability. That idea has been exposed as a bad joke. There were no leaders in that team on Sunday evening. None. They were overwhelmed by Liverpool. They were cowed by Anfield. They couldn’t cope. They lost their nerve as well as their dignity.

It turns out there is a lot more work for Erik ten Hag to do than we had begun to believe. He has made progress at Old Trafford and he has put the club and the team back on the right track but this was about as big a reality check as a manager can get. How he reacts to a humiliation like this, the greatest humiliation he has ever faced, will make him or break him as a manager, not just at United.

Bruno Fernandes melted into a pool of frothing, whingeing nothingness against Liverpool

Erik ten Hag has a bigger job than what we had been made to believe and the 7-0 loss will ask questions of players and of himself too – his get out of jail free card has gone now

He is still, indubitably, the best man for the job but Sunday’s performance was a betrayal of everything he stands for and everything he has tried to create since he arrived in Manchester. Eddie Howe, the Newcastle manager, talked last week about how the Carabao Cup might have marked the end of the first phase of the resuscitation of the club under his management. United’s embarrassment at Anfield will be a landmark for Ten Hag, too.

Howe suggested there would be some Newcastle players who will not be at the club the next time it gets to Wembley as it ramps up its recruitment. In the same vein, it would be a surprise if Fernandes is around at United next season after his performance at Anfield. How can Ten Hag trust him again after that? How can he ever rely on him on a big occasion after that? We all know the answer: he can’t.

United make biggest defeats top five

Most of the biggest defeats I’ve seen live in football have involved Manchester United but their capitulation on Sunday was the worst performance I’ve seen from any side in all of them. 

1. England 9-0 Luxembourg Wembley, December 1982 

2. Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal, Old Trafford, August 2011 

3. Germany 7-1 Brazil, Belo Horizonte, July 2014 

4. Liverpool 7-0 Manchester United, Anfield, March 2023 

5. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City, Old Trafford, October 2011 

They say you learn far more in defeat than you do in victory and if Ten Hag wants to take United to a level where they can challenge for the big prizes in the game again, he needs to act. A 7-0 defeat to Liverpool asks questions of his players but it asks questions of him, too. His get out of jail free card has gone now. There are questions about his own judgment. Why did he pick Dalot at right back? Why is he keeping faith with Antony? Why did he play Rashford centrally? Is Weghorst really a United-calibre centre forward?

Maybe some of the players in that United line-up will be ruined by what happened at Anfield. Some will have to rebuild their careers elsewhere. Others will use the memory of it to drive them on to great things in football and make sure that they are never part of anything like it again.

Ten Hag’s job now is to see to it that one calamitous defeat does not derail all the progress he has made. If he does not have leaders, he will have to recruit them. United must redouble their efforts, for instance, to sign Frenkie de Jong, a strong personality as well as a brilliant midfielder.

Ten Hag’s players let him down spectacularly on Sunday night but he is the kind of man who will see that as a challenge, not a reason for self-doubt. His own leadership skills are not in question: he has proved already that he has the strength to lead the club away from confusion and weakness and self-pity. Now he must prove it all over again.

Elliott shows transition may not be painful 

Amid the misery of Manchester United’s performance at Anfield, Liverpool’s stirring display provided plenty of hope that it could act as a springboard for a new era of success as the first team built by Jurgen Klopp begins to break up. 

Liverpool had outstanding performers all over the pitch but there were none better than Harvey Elliott, who dazzled United’s acclaimed midfield with his energy, his technique and his passing. 

Liverpool have spent much of this season fretting about their future but Elliott’s performance and the way new signings like Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo are starting to settle in, suggests that the period of transition may not be as painful as many had feared.

Liverpool had star performers all over the pitch but there were none better than Harvey Elliott

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