Thomas Tuchel summed up how Erik ten Hag must be feeling just now.
In the aftermath of Bayern Munich’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, a result that eliminated Ten Hag’s side from all European competition, the former Chelsea boss eloquently outlined the negatives of being a football manager when results have not gone your way.
“He does not need my advice or clapping on the shoulders,” said Tuchel. “He is experienced enough to go through it.
“I had not a nice moment last Saturday. Sometimes you feel pretty lonely as a coach.”
The difference between Bayern’s 5-1 loss at Frankfurt last weekend and where United are now is simple.
For Bayern, the result felt like a freak. A bad day in an overall positive season, certainly as far as the Bundesliga and Champions League are concerned. For United, it is just another bad day on top of previous bad days.
This latest loss could not be placed in the same atrocious category as Saturday’s embarrassing 3-0 home defeat by Bournemouth.
But, as former Premier League striker Chris Sutton said on Radio 5 Live, United are “just not very good”.
Sutton believes the Old Trafford club are “going backwards” under their current manager – and almost five years to the day since they went to Anfield and lost, a result that triggered the dismissal of Jose Mourinho, United go to Premier League leaders Liverpool on Sunday.
They will be without suspended skipper Bruno Fernandes and, almost certainly, defensive duo Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, who were both injured in the first half against Bayern.
‘We should have done better’
No matter what happened at Old Trafford, United would have been eliminated from the Champions League because FC Copenhagen beat Galatasaray.
The Danes operate on a budget roughly one-twentieth of United’s. The English side’s four points from a single win against Copenhagen and a draw in Turkey represents their lowest return from any Champions League group stage they have been involved in.
Not since 2005-06 under Sir Alex Ferguson have United failed to secure some kind of European action after Christmas, with the exception of 2014-15, when they missed out completely.
They are the kind of statistics for which there can be no logical explanation beyond chronic underachievement.
“I look to my team and we had opportunities in games,” said Ten Hag. “We were in winning positions, we scored many goals, so we have to see we gave it away sometimes by individual errors, not one player but more players. We gave opponents opportunities.
“We had very good spells but the fact is we did not get enough points.
“We are disappointed. We should have done better.”
Will Sir Jim Ratcliffe deal finally be confirmed next week?
The big question is what happens now.
United’s ownership situation desperately needs clarifying. It is still hoped Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group will have their 25% purchase confirmed before Christmas but this kind of optimism has been raised so many times over the past few weeks, with no announcement following, few will believe it until it actually happens.
Ratcliffe’s arrival, accompanied by Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc, who both visited Old Trafford last week, will at least allow United to look forward with some kind of clear vision and strategy, which seems to be missing at the moment.
Ten Hag says there are still “many things” to play for but in reality, that amounts to the FA Cup, which hasn’t even started for United yet, and Champions League qualification.
Ironically, it is the performances of Manchester City and Liverpool among others that will determine whether fifth spot rather than the usual fourth will be enough for qualification this season as Uefa offers two additional spots to the countries whose teams perform best in Europe overall.
Can Man Utd make the top five?
United are only three points off fifth and Tottenham, who occupy that place just now, are not much more consistent than Ten Hag’s team.
Yet, look beyond the results and there is a lack of style and an inescapable feeling some of the players Ten Hag signed, all of whom cost far more than Copenhagen could ever envisage paying, are not good enough for the level demanded of them.
On TNT Sports, former United midfielder Paul Scholes called it “a frightened performance”. With so much on the line, that assessment is damning.
Ten Hag offered a more wide-reaching view.
“In this campaign, we had not always the players available we want,” he said. “Now I give you a reason but don’t see it as an excuse. Even when we are not all on board, we have to win for Manchester United.”
So Ten Hag moves on. Having lost more games this season than he has won.
“We try everything to win matches, these are the goals of high level sports,” said Tuchel. “But of course I have sympathy.
“He has a lot of key players injured for a decisive match, they lack the personality and maybe the width to change games from the bench.
“It is not an easy time but I am pretty sure he knows what to do next.”
Manchester United can only hope Tuchel is right.