Manchester United came crashing back to earth with a meek 2-1 Premier League defeat at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, four days after a stunning comeback to beat Aston Villa 3-2 ignited hopes of better days to come.
The inconsistency that has plagued United’s season continued at the City Ground as they lost their ninth Premier League game out of 20 to remain seventh in the table, 11 points behind leaders Liverpool.
United have lost 14 games in all competitions this season, their most defeats by the turn of the year since 1930-31 after suffering their first loss at Forest in 29 years.
“Manchester United are so inconsistent,” Jamie Redknapp said Sky Sports. “They are horrible to watch. They have no real appetite, desire, it looks like they are playing under duress. There’s not enough ambition or desire.
Former United defender Gary Neville agreed.
“There’s no pattern of play,” Neville said. “I’m struggling to see what they are trying to do.”
The numbers are bleak. United have lost nine of their opening 20 league games in a season for the first time since 1989-90, as many as they suffered all last season in manager Erik Ten Hag’s debut campaign.
“We were over-performing last year, this year so far we are underperforming, we have to do better, we have to step up and I have to lead the process,” said Ten Hag, whose team won the League Cup and finished third in the league last season.
United, out of Europe and the League Cup, have accumulated 31 points, nine adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal who have played one fewer game. Only Burnley and Sheffield United have scored fewer goals than Ten Hag’s team.
“The ranking doesn’t lie but you have seen we went head-to-head with Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa,” Ten Hag said.
The loss at Forest kept the pressure on Ten Hag following the takeover of United by Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS group.
Dave Brailsford, INEOS’s director of sport and now a United director, watched the game at Forest.
“Definitely, he will see that we have our problems and you want to build on (the Boxing Day win), but then again, you have to replace your striker,” Ten Hag said.
United forward Rasmus Hojlund missed the Forest match due to illness after scoring his first Premier League goal of the season against Villa.