Manchester United’s latest new beginning was never going to be smooth, but even for a club as poorly run as they have been, Saturday’s demolition at the hands of Brentford was a new low.
Only two games into his Old Trafford career, Erik ten Hag is facing a crisis, and he is running out of time to fix it in the transfer window, although the issues at the club that remain unfixed run much deeper than which latest name they sign in an effort to paper over the cracks.
On the other side of the fence, opposite number Thomas Frank saw the question coming. The Brentford manager was basking in the glow of a comprehensive 4-0 victory, secured in a chastening first 35 minutes, hammering a club with resources 10-times his own and he was asked whether he was surprised how poor Manchester United had been.
“The easiest thing is to say it’s just Man United,” he said. “I think we deserve a huge amount of credit, there must be something we do right.”
He is right there. What happened at the Brentford Community Stadium was the consequence of when a properly run, focussed and together football club meets a shambles. From top to bottom, Brentford are a club in tune, organised and proactive. Manchester United are a parody of what a modern sporting operation should be.
But, for all Frank’s insistence that his team were exceptional, it was the vertiginous decline of United, the club that has won the league title more than any other in the country, that seized the attention. And the depressing news is, there is every sign that it is going to get worse.
Here are 10 catastrophic moments that pointed to the darkest of immediate futures:
Football giants replaced by cowards
When the fourth Brentford goal went in, the reaction of the players was telling. No-one said anything. Cristiano Ronaldo looked to the heavens, the captain Harry Maguire studied his boots, Luke Shaw appeared to be hoping his comical green kit would meld sufficiently with the turf to make him anonymous.
The last time United were bottom of the league after two games, back in 1992, they had in their ranks Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Peter Schmeichel, proper football men who fumed at every setback. Now they are staffed by cowards.
The failure to follow instruction
Ten Hag said the defeat came because his players did not do what they were asked. That was most obvious in the manner in which Brentford were allowed to play out from the back without any intervention. This was less gegenpress, more giggle press.
The inability to break down the Brentford defence
For all Frank’s delight at the manner his side conducted the low block, they were helped by the way United merely moved the ball from side to side in front of it. Not a single penetrating pass was attempted, let alone completed.
Not just defending them - though the attempt by the diminutive Lisandro Martinez to stop Ben Mee, himself not exactly a giant of a centre-back - was a masterclass in how not to protect the back post. But in attack too.
When Christian Eriksen last played here, his every free-kick was effective. Largely because Brentford players chased his crosses. Here every single dead ball he sent over went uncontested by United forwards who appear to believe that actually battling for the ball is beneath them.
A goalkeeper who fell short in every department
That David de Gea has been United’s player of the season for five of the 10 post-Ferguson is alarming enough in itself: if he is the cream of the squad, God help the skimmed milk. He was simply woeful here, lacking in three significant areas: confidence, organisation and positional sense.
Everyone knows how Frank’s team will play: aggressive on the press, tight in defence, looking at all times to deliver the long ball for Ivan Toney to knock on.
Ten Hag spent the week on the Carrington training ground apparently unable to explain to his new charges how to prevent it. The ease with which Toney played in Bryan Mbeumo for the best of the home goals was the football equivalent of a hot knife through butter.
He looks a decent bloke (he was the only one of the United players who consoled De Gea after his howler that allowed Josh Dasilva to open the scoring). But when it comes to his football, for four years and 106 appearances it has been evident to anyone watching United play that the Brazilian is no Roy Keane.
Yet Ten Hag is the fourth manager at Old Trafford obliged by the inadequacies of the club’s recruitment operation to rely on him to anchor midfield. The simple truth is, to misquote Alan Hansen, you’ll win nothing with Fred.
Ronaldo's incessant sulking
Ronaldo wants out, and frankly, who can blame him? But his body language, pouting, sulking, moaning, is a vampiric drain on morale.
At the end of the match he stomped off the pitch, refusing to acknowledge the long-suffering United support or shake his manager’s hand. Given that he plopped his one chance softly into David Raya’s hands, his surliness hardly represents occupation of the moral high ground.
At Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, the fullbacks are vital to the team’s attacking threat. With United, they are an adjunct, an absence of threat. That the club have not had a decent full-back since Patrice Evra departed is yet further indication of the empty space where operation planning should be.
And the one positive: the United fans
Despite what they were seeing, the 1,800 visiting supporters kept up a defiant chorus of the United Calypso throughout the second half. At least someone left at United is willing to show a bit of spirit, although the scenes at full-time as the players attempted to applaud them only magnified how those on the pitch do not deserve those in the stands.