How bad is too bad?
Even under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United fans experienced results so shocking that they felt like hiding under the covers for a few days.
The great man’s wonderful teams always had a big defeat in them, as fans of QPR, Southampton, Chelsea, Newcastle, and Manchester City would eagerly attest.
It’s normal then for even the most finely-tuned machines to have off days. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days.
Yesterday can’t be one of those days, as nobody would be naive enough to call the dysfunctional basket case that masquerades as a United side either finely-tuned or a machine.
It’s nothing more than a collection of expensive parts being haphazardly assembled by junior mechanics.
This wasn’t some flash-in-the-pan detour from good form. It was the natural conclusion to a worrying sequence of inept performances that have rightly pushed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future to the front and centre of the football conversation.
So where does he go from here? Judging by the broken demeanour he presented post-match, it’s not clear that the Norwegian has a solution.
The truth is that he and his coaches have had ample opportunities to address problems that have been obvious all season. Some of the issues go even deeper than that.
The lack of attacking coordination has been present for most of his tenure and shows no signs of improving.
It’s hard to escape the impression that star names are being thrown onto the pitch with no clear plan as to how they’re expected to function.
Some press, some don’t. Some want the ball into feet, others rely on service. There’s no unified theme and no partnerships, just the feeling that, eventually, all that star quality should create something.
Midfield is the most pressing issue and has been for a few seasons. It’s the one area of the side where excuses carry the most weight, as it seems obvious that neither Fred nor Scott McTominay are good enough to make the grade at a club of this stature.
Paradoxically, the McFred axis is seen as the manager’s go-to solution in big games – the combination that supposedly gives the most security.
Yet, somehow, this limited pairing achieves the worst of both worlds, with neither player winning enough tackles to justify their inclusion and neither offering enough in the final third.
They’re a Nissan Sunny engine dumped in a Ferrari’s body.
Despite that, the suggestion that Solskjaer is being unfairly held back until the club hierarchy sanctions an expensive midfield recruit is nonsense.
The likes of Everton and Aston Villa have come to Old Trafford with less quality in most positions and still looked the better drilled, more cohesive teams.
There are managers throughout the Premier League who achieve better performances through basic principles of organisation and work rate than the Reds’ coaching staff have achieved with their enviable glut of world-class stars.
Forget the elite coaches at Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea, so-called ‘lesser’ names like Graham Potter, Dean Smith, and Thomas Frank wring every last drop of potential out of their players.
Their teams also have an identity and collective sense of purpose that is sorely lacking from the slumbering aristocrats at Old Trafford.
United cast-off David Moyes, while undoubtedly the wrong man to replace Ferguson, has found relative success with limited resources at West Ham.
In truth, the same could be said of pretty much every manager in the Premier League. They all seem to achieve more with less.
Yesterday’s mauling was a reckoning handed out in ruthless fashion by a (grits teeth) world-class side operating levels beyond the current pale imitation of Manchester United.
The gulf between the slick, solid visitors and the chaotic home team was as big as it’s ever been. Liverpool sliced through United at will, while giving the impression there were further gears to go through.
If anything, the Merseysiders seemed to take pity on their ramshackle opponents. It was the ultimate insult to see them satisfied to stroll around while the scoreboard beamed in a vision from some hellish parallel dimension.
For the fans who stayed behind, there can’t have been many worse sights in living memory.
And while their love for Solskjaer – the player – is understandable, the sight of thousands flocking from the ground at half-time speaks volumes about their opinion of Solskjaer the manager.
This just isn’t working. It’s time to pull the plug.