Man Utd's gutless defeat at Everton underlines the size of Ten Hag's task

Harry Maguire Manchester United Everton Premier League 2021-22Getty

Everton 1-0 Manchester United: Match Statistics

If Erik ten Hag was not already aware of the huge task that awaits him should he agree to take over Manchester United, then a viewing of their latest horror show will do the trick.

The board will just have to hope that Saturday's embarrassingly tame 1-0 loss at Everton did not terrify the current Ajax boss to the point of putting him off agreeing to become their next permanent manager. 

The typically vocal United away following could only watch on in silence as their team produced an insipid display against a team who are in real danger of relegation from the Premier League.

Ralf Rangnick was brought in to steady the sinking ship, with United having been in freefall under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but with the team applying themselves in this manner, the German would have to be Harry Houdini to conjure up a top-four finish at this stage. 

Seventh-placed United still have seven games to play, so Champions League qualification is not mathematically impossible, but it now feels that way, given the ineffective nature of their performances.

Remember, Rangnick's side still have to face Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea and, right now, there is no guarantee they will even have enough to get past basement boys Norwich next weekend. 

The United boss had said in his pre-match press conference that he took great encouragement from what he had seen in training this week, that the physicality and aggression that had been lacking in last weekend’s draw against Leicester would be present at Goodison Park. 

However, there was no sign of either attribute against Everton, with his players failing dismally to stand up and be counted.

With just two minutes on the lock, Harry Maguire knocked the ball out of play while under no pressure at all, and that inexplicable error set the tone for United’s display. 

Marcus Rashford, starting on his favoured left-hand side, was their brightest attacking spark, but even he dulled as the half went on, and he ended up being switched to the opposite flank. 

The tension inside Goodison was palpable, with Everton's loss at Burnley in midweek having left them just one point above the drop zone at kick-off.

However, when Anthony Gordon’s 20-yard strike deflected off Maguire and into the United net, the roar was deafening, but even with Everton growing into the game, that excitement level didn’t last.

It was a nervous energy from the home support and it filtered onto the pitch.

This was a team with five defeats in their last six games and it showed: Frank Lampard’s side were desperately poor in possession – they had still enough to beat a gutless United side. 

Rangnick stood on the touchline in his mauve jumper gesturing to his players to push further up the pitch but it made no difference.

Collectively, United's players once again lacked drive and commitment.

They should have capitalised on the home side’s anxiety and mistakes; instead, they played into their hands by making basic errors of their own. 

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The touches were heavy, the movement wasn’t quick enough, the attacking ideas were not there, there was no desire and certainly no fight.

Before football returned after the last international break, the hope from inside the club was that a rejuvenated United would finish the season on the high and secure Champions League football. 

The way they’re going, though, and with tougher tests coming up, they’ll be lucky if they qualify for any European competition at all next season.