Manchester United scripted another unwanted record in the 2021/22 season as they finished with a goal difference of 0 at the end of the campaign. This basically means that they have conceded as many goals as they have scored throughout the whole season. The last time a team finished with goal difference of 0 in the Premier League was in the 2019-20 season when Sheffield United held the dubious honor. To put things in perspective, Manchester City finished with a goal difference of +73 (99-26) and Liverpool ended with a +68.
The last time Manchester United did not end a season with a positive goal difference was way back in the 1989-90 season when they conceded two goals more than the 45 they netted. In the 2020-21 season, the goal difference was +29 (73-44).
With the season gone and hopes of playing the Champions League lying in tatters, Manchester United players and fans have no other choice but to look forward to the next campaign under new manager Erik Ten Hag.
But where did it all go wrong for a once heralded club, who signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane in the same window? What was the malaise that ails a club like United who finished their worst season in Premier League history, languishing at sixth with 58 points?
According to ESPN, Ronaldo’s arrival from Juventus signaled the beginning of the end for Edison Cavani and Anthony Martial. The former was less than impressed when he was asked to relinquish the number 7 jersey after carrying United through a Covid-riddled 2020-21 season and wanted to move to Barcelona. Even with Marcus Rashford’s dip in form, Martial was surprisingly overlooked by Solskjaer as well as Rangnick and had to settle for a loan at Sevilla where his sagging fortunes showed no signs of looking up.
According to sources quoted by ESPN, senior figures at United attempted to persuade Rashford to sideline his off-field commitments to focus on regaining his form and fitness but the player disregarded it. He ended the season with just 5 goals.
ESPN also revealed that an agent of a senior player complained to the club that Ronaldo had been given more prominence than their client in promotional campaigns. The rot in the middle had well and truly set in.
With Solskjaer shown the door after a string of embarrassing results which included a 5-0 thrashing by rivals Liverpool and a 4-1 mauling by relegation-threatened Watford, United looked to Ralf Rangnick even when a Premier League-experienced Antonio Conte was available in the market. ESPN claimed that the higher-ups at Old Trafford regarded Conte as being “too demanding of players to suit our squad”. He was overlooked and soon hired by Tottenham, who ended the season qualifying for the Champions League.
When Rangnick came in, ESPN revealed that one player admitted to teammates that he “had to Google” the 63-year-old German. With Rangnick’s methods unable to provide the desired results, the locker room tension began to spread with the team split into different camps.
“The British players tended to stick together while many of the foreign lads took their lead from Ronaldo,” a source told ESPN.
The most damning aspect of Rangnick’s reign was broken by The Athletic who said that Lars Kornetka, Rangnick’s assistant at Lokomotiv Moscow provided live analysis on United’s display, with his thoughts transmitted through coach Kieran McKenna to Rangnick at half-time. Kornetka had been mooted to also join United but preferred to stay in Russia at Lokomotiv.
Thus, Rangnick valuing the opinions of someone not employed by United, raised eyebrows, even more so when it sidelined Paul Brand, United’s head performance analyst who had access to multiple camera angles and substantial data but Rangnick primarily wanted to hear the thoughts of Kornetka, who through working remotely had access to only basic technology, said the Athletic report.
– Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 24, 2022
According to the same report, on match days, Kornetka occasionally talked to Rangnick’s assistant Ewan Sharp and maintained influence during games, ultimately gaining access to all the data available in real time. Rather than rely solely on touchline dialogue with fellow coach Chris Armas, Rangnick wanted to hear from Kornetka and use computer analysis to help decide possible tactical tweaks or substitutions, which greatly delayed the decision-making processes.
With Eric ten Hag in as the next manager and a lot of players in flux at the time of writing, the future of United looks wobbly at best. Hag was in attendance when a clueless United ended the season with a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace and he must know a tough road awaits him.