Manchester United are a mess no one wants to take responsibility for | Soccer

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There is a world, not too far removed from the one we live in, in which Alejandro Garnacho was not ruled offside, in which Gabriel Magalhães did not manage, like Catherine Zeta-Jones evading the infrared security beams in Entrapment, to contort his body around the VAR lines, and Manchester United stole a late winner at the Emirates on Sunday. We’d now be talking about the fine margins, about a finely executed smash-and-grab, about Erik ten Hag finally beating a major rival away from home. But in our world, Garnacho was offside and Arsenal scored twice in injury-time.

Results can be great deceivers – take United’s 1-0 win over Wolves this season, in which the West Midlands club had dominated the match. But Sunday was part of a pattern. The only away point United picked up last season against teams who finished in the top nine of the Premier League was at Tottenham, where they have already lost this season. And nobody could claim, surely, that United had played well on Sunday.

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Ten Hag, as so many modern managers must, railed against the officiating, which was very confusing for those who, when Arsenal had a penalty overturned after a VAR review, had heard Gunners fans raging at the appointment of the referee Anthony Taylor, of Wythenshawe in Greater Manchester.

His cover, evidently, was deep, he was embedded at Altrincham Grammar School in 1990 as a sleeper agent and the overturning of the penalty decision was all part of some cunning smokescreen. Either that or some decisions are so borderline one side will always leap up and cry conspiracy.

But what matters is perhaps less the specifics and the rights and wrongs of individual incidents than the fact that Ten Hag has been drawn into this nonsense. To say “the wrong angle” was used on the Garnacho decision is simply to misunderstand how VAR assesses offsides. Ten Hag must know that, which means one of two things. Either he is playing a very dangerous game in appealing to the baser instincts of the United fanbase as a diversionary tactic, or he has slipped, even if only in the immediate aftermath of a game in which his side conceded two injury-time goals, into the paranoia that so often afflicts beleaguered managers.

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And that matters because, until now, it had always been possible to believe Ten Hag, steely-eyed and forbidding, had the clarity of vision and force of personality to drive United out of the chaos that has engulfed them since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Becoming a José Mourinho tribute act will not help.

To an extent, Ten Hag is still the victim of decisions made long before his arrival. The teamsheets on Sunday made clear the difference in outlook between the sides. Arsenal are young and flawed but at least looking upwards, dreaming of a better tomorrow. United are still struggling to shake off the past. How is Anthony Martial still starting at centre-forward? How can one injury (to a player who has not started the season well) leave them fielding a pair of increasingly sluggish 31-year-olds in midfield?

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Eric Bailly completes move to Besiktas from Manchester United

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Eric Bailly has completed a permanent move to Besiktas from Manchester United, the Turkish club have announced.

Ivory Coast defender Bailly, 29, had spent last season on loan at Marseille as he was not in Erik ten Hag’s plans going forward.

A statement from the Turkish Super Lig side read: “Our club has reached an agreement with Manchester United for the final transfer of Ivorian defender Eric Bailly.

“We wish Eric Bailly, who we believe will provide important services to our club, great success with our glorious jersey, and present it to the public with our respect.” PA Media

Photograph: Phil Oldham/Rex Features

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Signing the 35-year-old Jonny Evans makes sense as short-term cover, until you ask why a club like United needs short-term cover at centre-back. How can it possibly be that their academy hasn’t produced a high-class centre-back since, well, Jonny Evans? How can they have finished the game with a defensive pairing of Evans and Harry Maguire? What is this, Wes Morgan’s testimonial?

The Glazers, who have now apparently decided not to sell, rightly take most of the blame. From the stadium to the academy there has been a lack of investment on infrastructure. And while money has been spent on signings – a net £410m over the past three years – it has not been spent well. Antony, seemingly bought at Ten Hag’s insistence, cost £80m last summer but continues to flicker without catching light. The £70m Jadon Sancho was not even in the matchday squad on Sunday, left out, Ten Hag said, because of performances in training. Sancho hit back on social media to say he was being scapegoated, and the club appears to be backing Ten Hag rather than the player. Whatever the truth, he has not made anything like the impact that would have been hoped for.

But perhaps the biggest immediate issue is a midfield that keeps parting for opponents to surge through. United successfully plugged that gap for 28 minutes on Sunday, largely by passing the ball between themselves in their own defensive third, but as soon as the pattern of the game was broken by them taking the lead, Martin Ødegaard ran untended on to a cutback as Lisandro Martínez bawled in a vain attempt to get Christian Eriksen to pick the Norwegian up.

Even if United had burgled a win on Sunday, it could not have disguised the issues of investment, personnel and tactical structure. So of course there’s only one person at whom the finger of blame can be pointed: Anthony Taylor, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester.

At some point somebody at United is going to have to take some responsibility for the mess the club is in, but we are not there in this world, not yet.

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