A humiliation that was one of the most astounding scorelines in the Premier League’s 30-year history, and wasn’t actually all that surprising. Jubilant Brentford, for one, seemed to know exactly what Manchester United were going to do and how they could hurt them. Again, and again, and again, until it was a stunning 4-0 after just 35 minutes.
That is itself a low, and yet you couldn’t really say Erik ten Hag’s new era has plummeted to new depths. It was rather a continuation of everything that has come before, an implosion from so many problems that had built up for over a decade.
The most alarming part is maybe that Ten Hag hasn’t been able to arrest that, even temporarily. There’s been no jolt, no new spark, no impact, except for the negative.
This should of course put even greater focus on fan protests against the Glazer ownership, under which Manchester United can never be what they should be.
It was a modern football tragedy that a leveraged takeover was allowed to happen in the first place and continues to sum up problems in England’s national game.
Perhaps the country’s greatest club are clearly broken, most of all within the dressing room.
There are some figures with knowledge of the United squad who talk of “football PTSD”, if you will excuse the insensitivity of using such a term. They’ve suffered too much emotional stress, with too much glare.
That can be seen in how badly they react to adversity now. This, the club of Fergie-time, Roy Keane and last-minute winners.
It sums it up that, as the Premier League celebrates its 30th anniversary, the competition’s most successful club were enduring a second game in just nine months were they were 4-0 down by half-time. This was by 35 minutes, and that against a club who were in the Championship just over a year ago, and still largely operate off a Championship budget.
It illustrates that there are bigger issues at United than expenditure.
Christian Eriksen, goaded by the Brentford crowd throughout for leaving them in the summer, must have been wondering what he had actually left them for.
And what of Ten Hag?
While he has been dealt an atrocious hand – seen in all the chaos of the summer – this is not just why people warned him off the job.
There is a fair argument that this is why some in the Old Trafford hierarchy warned they shouldn’t appoint him.
Yes, we are talking in those terms, since this result was that bad. And it looks like things can get worse.
The blunt truth is that he was far from blameless.
Take the player at the centre of so much of the occasion, literally. What does it say about Ten Hag’s tactical approach that he so abruptly switched Eriksen from a false nine to a number six, and that against a team that press you like Brentford?
It was even less of a surprise than the scoreline that Thomas Frank’s side so repeatedly got at him and got around him.
It was Eriksen that duly lost the ball to Mathias Jensen for the second goal, the midfielder casually stroking it past De Gea in a manner that reflected how easy it was for Brentford.
It also showed something United were having such basic difficulty with. That was passing it out from the back.
It was like a scene from 2011, reminding of Andre Villas Boas’s high line with Chelsea, as if this squad of players had never before experienced what is now a standard piece of coaching. Perhaps they hadn’t. Perhaps that’s one more problem, and why it can somehow get worse before it gets better.
Ten Hag is introducing the squad to a form of play that has been alien to them. You only had to look at the trepidation in De Gea’s body movements as he hesitated and panicked before playing that ball to Eriksen.
The Spanish international would have already been affected by the nature of the opening goal, as he let in Josh Dasilva’s shot in the face of admittedly strong sun, but there’s also the fact that he is just not a goalkeeper suited to playing it out from the back.
It is going to be another faultline. The fall-out caused more cracks in United throughout this match.
Mere minutes later, De Gea came out for a corner and got nowhere, the rampaging Toney heading it back across goal for Ben Mee to divert in.
The former Burnley centre-half was falling over and still beat Lisandro Martinez to an aerial ball.
Much has been made of the Argentine defender’s height, but just as important might be the leap.
United have put an awful lot of stock in signings from a league that is now way below the Premier League’s general standard, let alone the sort of expectations one of its wealthiest clubs should have.
There is now such a gap between the Dutch competition and England that, really, even players at Ajax could do with a year in mid-table. Which brings us to the manager.
Ten Hag will have now more than realised that, whatever about the gap between the leagues, he doesn’t have anything like the structure he enjoyed at Ajax.
It meant United didn’t have anything like tactical structure in this game.
By that remarkable fourth goal, Brentford were so comfortable that they had the confidence and sense of self-expression to just slice through Ten Hag’s side, Bryan Mbeumo leaving the hapless Luke Shaw for dust as he also rolled the ball beyond De Gea.
The home crowd could barely believe it, but were making sure to live in every moment.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, in all of the discussion about United, this was Brentford’s day; one of their greatest days.
For United, it was another “worst day” to add to the list. If it has to get worse before it gets better, what next?
Well, that would be Liverpool.
Like this, you wouldn’t be surprised at whatever comes out of that, bar a show of competence from United.