Manchester United finished last season in a desperate situation but things are even worse after their loss to Brentford.
The reasons to despair are piling up.
Last season the club had a captain who looked on the verge of mental exhaustion, a diabolical midfield, a disinterested board and a transfer strategy gripped by inertia and ignorance. Nothing has changed.
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Harry Maguire’s presence in the centre of defence when Raphael Varane is there to play alongside Lisandro Martinez - a short king - suggests that even if Maguire is a dreadful presence, there could be something worse at play with the French international. He joined as a player that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted to be a leader. Instead he has been found out as a one-paced sack of meat who can be reduced to shaking synapses if he is even looked at by a pacey player.
For now, David de Gea’s mistake could just be a regular keeper aberration, but with the players crumbling to go 4-0 down in 40 minutes the situation suggests that the player’s brittle mentality hasn’t been helped by the arrival of an exacting and attacking manager, instead it has gotten worse.
Midway through the first half United were already being comfortably outrun and outsprinted by their opponents.
We were told that Ten Hag wants high-energy and pressing from his team, and he must have been able to institute the training sessions he wants, from which it can be inferred that there are deep troubles amongst the players. If their pre-season was overseen by the coach who had Ajax busting their lungs for one another, and they are still slacking at the very basics, then it doesn’t matter who is in charge - the players will continue to let themselves, the manager and the supporters down.
Of course, a squad rebuild would have gone some way to addressing the miserable state of the club’s mental outlook. Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba left, two talented players who seemed content to coast whenever they had the chance. But nobody of merit has stepped in to replace them. It was clear at the end of the season that two midfielders of real quality were needed. Christian Eriksen was a potential bargain, but three months looking at Frenkie de Jong instead of actually buying someone who can play on the pitch for them feels like a misstep.
As well as Martinez and Eriksen is Tyrell Malacia. He may be a green 20-year-old with limited experience, but Luke Shaw has failed to improve a single facet of his game since United overpaid for him years ago. Jose Mourinho reportedly had little time for him when he almost joined him at Chelsea, and his opinion seemed to drop even further when he had to deal with him everyday. Shaw joined United in 2014. It is 2022.
The players already at the club are not good enough. They proved it last year, the year before that, and the year before that. This summer was the time to finally find several young, exciting and determined talents. John Murtough and Darren Fletcher were appointed last season in order to start identifying players who can give the club that. Ten Hag was supposed to have his own shortlist. Next week, the club continues to haggle terms for Adrien Rabiot. When and if they manage to persuade the 27-year-old underperformer to join the club, they will have to move on to finding a new potential striker after a move for 33-year-old ex-Shanghai Port striker Marko Arnautovic didn’t even get close to coming through.
After three months to get things fixed, United have a smaller squad than the one that failed last year. They have at least one striker who wants to leave, Cristiano Ronaldo, and another - Marcus Rashford - who is wanted by Paris Saint-Germain and another Anthony Martial, who tried to leave for good last winter. They have a midfield pairing who cannot be trusted to pass, and defenders who cannot be trusted to think. They have a goalkeeper with a history of the yips who has made another mistake just as they sent his understudy out on loan for the season. They have a coach who has failed to organise and motivate his players after the same amount of pre-season everyone else gets. They have two more weeks to complete transfers in a panic, against the backdrop of chaos, in the face of mounting disaster. And they have only played two games.
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