A week on from lifting the Carabao Cup and ending the club’s six-year wait for silverware, the Old Trafford giants were brought back down to earth.
ERIK TEN HAG was furious with his side’s “unprofessional” display after Liverpool inflicted a 7-0 humiliation that equaled Manchester United’s heaviest-ever competitive defeat.
A week on from lifting the Carabao Cup and ending the club’s six-year wait for silverware, the Old Trafford giants were brought back down to earth with a bump by Jurgen Klopp’s Reds at a rocking Anfield.
Cody Gakpo’s smart strike had Liverpool ahead at the break and nobody could have foreseen the way United would unravel as an even first half was followed by a shambolic second period.
Gakpo, Darwin Nunez, and Mohamed Salah – who became Liverpool’s all-time leading Premier League scorer – ended the day with two goals apiece, with substitute Roberto Firmino completing a win that will live long in the memory of both clubs.
Sunday’s 7-0 Anfield annihilation equaled United’s record competitive defeat – against Blackburn in 1926, Aston Villa in 1930, and Wolves in 1931 – and infuriated Ten Hag.
“The result is quite obvious,” the Dutchman said. “It’s unprofessional.
“But I think it’s a huge difference in Brentford (in August). We were 4-0 down at half-time, so we started the game very badly.
“Today, first half, I think we were the better team. First half, we created the better chances and we had two one-on-ones with the goalie and they hadn’t.
“Then before half-time, we make one mistake (in terms of) organization and we concede a goal, so I think we were in the game.
“So, it was a surprise for me that after half-time we so quickly gave the game away.
“First two goals, two defensive transition moments. The first was a turnover, and the second was a counter.
“We make such bad decisions, a matter of decisions on the ball. That was with the first one obviously but then how we anticipate, and how we concede that goal is annoying.
“Then the third was a counter, also so unprofessional about decisions, not following in, then running in, moving forward, giving the space away in the back end of the midfield, not tracking back. And especially that one, not tracking back.
“Then it’s 3-0, then the game’s lost. Then as a team, you have to stick together and that is what we didn’t do and that was a surprise for me.
“I haven’t seen this from my team I don’t think it’s us. I don’t think it’s Manchester United, so that’s bad and poor.”
Ten Hag was seething as he spoke in the bowels of Anfield, telling the press conference that United’s players “didn’t cooperate anymore together and they didn’t fulfill their jobs” in the second half.
The group is in for an uncomfortable review at Carrington on Monday, with the Dutchman demanding a response against Real Betis in Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg.
Asked if the players had explained their second-half display, Ten Hag said: “No, I didn’t give them the chance until now. I think we have to talk about that.
“I have only given my opinion about it. We will talk about it tomorrow.
“But then I know this team will reset and we have to bounce back. We have shown in the past we can.”
United bounced back from humiliating defeats by Brighton and Brentford in their first two games of the season by beating Liverpool in August. They also made a winning response to October’s 6-3 loss at neighbors Manchester City.
“I have some (similar experiences in my career) that are the bad days,” Ten Hag said.
“But also (they) are the days if you do the right things if you react with the right measures as a manager and as a team, you can learn a lot from it, you can strengthen your mentality.”
The defeat seemingly extinguishes United’s hopes of a title charge, but their largely positive performances this season mean Ten Hag will not get carried away.
“If it was more often then it’s a pattern, but we had so many good results in the last weeks, months, so many good performances,” he added.
“This was a really bad performance, and I talk about the second half because first half I think this team, our team, played well. Played decent.”
Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp hailed his team as his sometimes maligned front three of Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez, and Mohamed Salah all scored twice.
The triumvirate of Salah, Firmino, and the now departed Sadio Mane took Liverpool back to the top of English and European football under coach Jurgen Klopp.
In a desperately disappointing season with Liverpool still sitting only fifth in the Premier League, the signings of Nunez and Gakpo for a combined £100 million ($121 million) have been questioned.
But both enjoyed by a distance the best day of their Liverpool careers to prove the doubters wrong.
“We showed tonight what we could be, what we can be, and what we have to be from now on,” said Klopp. “We don’t talk about the scoreline, we just talk about the performance.”
The fact that both players were once linked with United will sting even more for the Red Devils with a center-forward a priority this summer if the progress they have made under Erik ten Hag is not to stall next season.
Gakpo was seen as an obvious target given Ten Hag has not been slow to shop in his homeland with the signings of Antony, Lisandro Martinez, and Tyrell Malacia.
But Liverpool is beginning to reap the rewards of jumping ahead of the competition to sign the Dutch forward from PSV Eindhoven in January following an impressive World Cup.