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Manchester United fans need to grasp reality after friendly win against Liverpool

“A win in the Bangkok Centenary Cup was about as significant as a victory against the reserve team at the training ground”

Manchester United Bruno Fernandes. second from left, and Manchester United's manager Erik ten Hag hold the trophy after winning their pre-season soccer match at the Rajamangala national stadium In Bangkok ,Thailand, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Manchester United beat Liverpool's 4-0.(AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)© AP

John AldridgeSunday World

THE way some Manchester United fans reacted to their pre-season 4-0 win against Liverpool was embarrassing, yet I can understand why.

A win in the Bangkok Centenary Cup was about as significant as a victory against the reserve team at the training ground.

Yet some United fans on social media were celebrating as if they had inflicted a devastating blow on Liverpool.

I might point out that the 9-0 aggregate over two one-sided Premier League matches last season were a far more significant reflection of where these two sides are at the moment, but we all understand how football rivalry works.

Liverpool fans don’t want to lose a five-a-side game against a team representing their arch-rivals Manchester United, so it wasn’t fun watching a line-up representing my old team lose so heavily the other day.

I sat through the game with a couple of United fans and that didn’t make it any easier for me!

And yet, to be fair, they were laughing at their own expense.

It was the first trophy United had lifted in a long time – and they have been so bad over the last three or four years that winning a game of tiddlywinks is exciting at this stage.

Liverpool's Fabinho, right, fights for the ball with Manchester United's Hannibal Mejbri during their pre-season soccer match at Rajamangala national stadium in Bangkok, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Manchester United beat Liverpool 4-0.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)© AP

It’s a sign of how far United have fallen since Alex Ferguson stepped down as their manager that a friendly win against a less-than-full-strength Liverpool side is seen as a big moment.

Sadly for them, this is where United are at the moment.

They finished 34 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s men last season and didn’t get close to winning a trophy in any competition.

Finishing sixth was a miracle, considering how dreadful they were for most of the season – and they needed a slip-up from West Ham on the final day of the season to avoid the humiliation of playing in the third-tier UEFA Conference League.

I know it’s tough for United fans to accept their new status as a mid-table team and they will get excited after the arrival of a new manager, but that’s the reality.

Erik ten Hag has a massive job on his hands and while the signing of Christian Eriksen might slightly improve their bang-average midfield, I don’t think too many of their rivals will be worried.

The truth is the game in Bangkok was basically decided by the way the two managers set up their teams – and if Klopp did things differently, the result have well have been 4-0 the other way.

United started with a lot of their experienced players, but Klopp decided to go the other way and give some of his younger players a chance to shine.

It backfired horribly as a back four that had not played together too often struggled badly and the goals started flowing for United.

Put Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson in that back four and you have a very different story, so some perspective is needed here.

And the reality is that the only team Liverpool will be worried about next season are United’s local rivals Manchester City.

United aren’t even the best team in their own town anymore and that has been the case for some time now.

I’d be amazed if they recovered to the extent that they could challenge for a top-three finish in this upcoming season, as they were so far behind the best teams in the Premier League last season that it will take time for them to recover.

Manchester United's head coach Erik ten Hag during their pre-season soccer match against Liverpool at Rajamangala national stadium in Bangkok, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Manchester United beat Liverpool 4-0.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)© AP

Ten Hag is fortunate that things can only get better for the team he is trying to rebuild, but the trouble he faces is the expectations at a club like United will never fade.

He needs Marcus Rashford to bounce back from his worst season yet, and he needs Harry Maguire to find his form again quickly.

I can’t see Bruno Fernandes and Eriksen playing in the same team as they are both flair players and Ten Hag then has to resolve the Cristiano Ronaldo situation.

We all know that Ronaldo is a player who will deliver goals, but he also upset the dressing-room atmosphere – and needs everything to be built around him.

That rubs other players up the wrong way and with Ronaldo already confirming he wants to leave the club, it is a problem that will overshadow the next few weeks for Ten Hag. The truth is, United are still a club with huge problems as their Old Trafford home is being left to rot by owners who are not willing to put the money in for a revamp.

At the same time, these owners are taking millions in dividends each year and they have a track record of making terrible decisions when it comes to hiring managers and signing players.

Ten Hag is the latest manager to try and work in what has been proven to be a dysfunctional set-up at United, so I won’t be holding my breath and expecting them to be a threat next season.

I always suspected the glory days for United would come to an end when Ferguson’s reign as manager was over, but I didn’t expect them to fall as far. Big falls tend to lead to slow and painful recoveries and that’s what I expect to see from Manchester United over the next couple of years.

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