From Shambles to Champagne – Man Utd’s 23/24 season review

To say Manchester United have had a chaotic season, would be some understatement.

From the eruption at Old Trafford against Liverpool in the cup, to the dismal display against Crystal Palace, this season, has had it all.

An injury riddled squad, a manager on the brink of the sack and a team who no one believed could beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final… (spoilers)

This is the story of Manchester United’s turbulent season.

Jadon Sancho vs Erik ten Hag

jadon sancho playing for borussia dortmund
Ralf Roletschek (GFDL 1.2 or FAL), via Wikimedia Commons

What better place to start.

To set the scene, it’s early September, United had just come off the back of two wins from three in August, but the performances in the wins had been subpar.

In a press conference, Ten Hag publicly announced that Sancho wasn’t in the squad due to poor training.


Erik ten Hag calls out Jadon Sancho for not being good enough in training 😳 #footballtiktok #manchesterunited #premierleague

♬ original sound – HaytersTV

The same evening, Sancho took to social media to deny this, stating this was ‘completely untrue’ and he’d been a ‘scapegoat’ for some time.

To Ten Hag, this was perceived as Sancho calling him a liar and he demanded an in-person apology.

This never came.

Both sides stood firm, so Sancho didn’t play for United again for the rest of the season, spending half the year back on loan with his former club Borussia Dortmund.

After surviving the media onslaught around Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, the Sancho saga was everything Ten Hag wanted to avoid.

This wasn’t possible, as the media took their chance and begun spinning the narrative for as long as they could.

Within a month, the focus of United’s season, had already moved away from football.


Champions League Catastrophe

Drawn into a group with Bayern Munich, F.C. Copenhagen and Galatasaray S.K., hopes were high for progression to the knockouts.

But, United hadn’t passed the quarter finals of the Champions League since 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the final.

However, with a kind draw and good investment in the summer, the expectation was to at least get to the round of 16.

This mentality quickly became a fairy-tale, after opening defeats to Bayern Munich and Galatasaray.

A 1-0 win against Copenhagen gave United a glimmer of hope, but a loss in the reverse fixture, a draw against Galatasaray and another loss to Bayern, hammered the final nails in the coffin.

United aren’t new to an early bath in the Champions League group stage, having failed to qualify for the round of 16 in previous seasons, but they had at least secured third, to gain qualification for the Europa League knockout stages.

Ten Hag’s side couldn’t even succumb to that, finishing rock bottom of the group.

The pressure was immediately on the Dutch coach.

INEOS’ arrival

jim radcliffe welcome to manchester billboard ineos

After over 12 months of the sale race, the ownership saga finally drew to a close.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS group were announced as the new co-owners, purchasing 27.7% of the club.

Within days, INEOS began making changes, removing fragments of the hierarchy, in favour of externally recruiting world class individuals.

In a statement signing, INEOS swept up Omar Berrada, the City Football Group’s Chief Football Operations Officer, and lured him away from the blue and over to the red side of Manchester.

Highly rated Dan Ashworth was also charmed by INEOS but hasn’t officially joined yet due to contractual issues with United and Newcastle over proposed gardening leave.

Southampton’s director of football, Jason Wilcox, was also brought in to be technical director.

The club was seeing thorough change for the first time in years, with a fresh set of eyes, looking to take the initiative immediately.

Such change posed a real threat to Ten Hag though.

INEOS’ purposeful entrance to the club, showed they weren’t there to mess about.

Anyone’s job, be it the top dog in Erik ten Hag, or someone at the bottom of the hierarchy, was no longer safe.

Injury crisis

With the rising amount of games in the already overly congested footballing calendar, injuries are inevitable.

But United were struck down by an unfathomable amount of them.

Finishing the year with 45 injuries, the most in the Premier League by two, Ten Hag could never field his desired first 11.

Subsequently, the Dutch coach was forced to abandon his morals and play a style which catered to filling the missing qualities in the team.

The loss of former Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez was huge, as he and Raphael Varane had built up an exceptional centre half partnership the year prior, keeping the most clean sheets in the Premier League.

Martinez made just 14 appearances all season.

Similarly, his partner in crime Varane, struggled with injuries.

The French defender missed 15 games as a result.

This forced Ten Hag to use 15 different centre half pairings across the season.

Subsequently, the team lacked cohesion and were incredibly vulnerable defensively.

While most will allude to bad luck, some more cynical have questioned Ten Hag’s training ground demands.

It was reported in the Manchester Evening News, that a minority of players were concerned by Ten Hag’s training methods.

Ten Hag publicly came out and countered this however.

Ultimately, it’s no doubt that injuries played a significant role in United’s struggles this season, but can that really justify the poor league finish?

A league season to forget

After David Moyes’ United side finished seventh with just 64 points in 2013/14, nobody thought United would ever have a season worse than that.

10 years later and United slumped to an eighth-place finish, with 60 points, four less than Moyes could manage.

The Scotsman had the excuse of coming directly after the greatest manager English football had ever seen, but what was Ten Hag’s?

The injuries no doubt, but surely after spending just shy of £400m in two years, United would be able to cope with such.

There’re justifications for various points of view but also unification in the unacceptable nature of some defeats United had this season.

The home 3-0 derby day defeat to Manchester City was a tough pill to swallow for Ten Hag, as it was a clear illustration of how big the gap between the clubs still is, over a year into his tenure.

There was an understanding however, of the supreme quality of Pep Guardiola’s City and an acceptance that United just couldn’t compete at that time.

So, this defeat was borderline justifiable.

But the 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup, the 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth and the 4-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, are just three examples of undefendable capitulations United had produced.

The pressure continued to mount on Ten Hag with his sacking a real and potentially looming possibility largely down to his Man Utd live results.

With United unable to qualify for any European competition after finishing eighth in the league, winning the FA Cup was the only way to save United’s season and for Ten Hag to have a chance at keeping his job.

The Chaotic Cup Run

After heartbreak in the FA Cup final against Manchester City 12 months earlier, United had their eyes fixated upon revenge, in a historic rematch between the local rivals.

But their journey to the final was far from smooth.

A comfortable 2-0 victory against Wigan Athletic, saw United safely through into the fourth round of the cup.

The Red Devils were then drawn against League Two side Newport County, surely a comfortable victory into the next round right?

This was far from the truth.

United galloped into an early 2-0 lead but a 13-minute surprise turnaround from the hosts, saw Newport score twice to strike level.

Rodney Parade was bouncing, and United were sinking.

Ultimately, it took £157m worth of talent, to restore United’s lead, with Antony and Rasmus Hojlund scoring, to ensure the Red Devils progressed to the next round.

Next up was Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

A blisteringly cold February evening played out a frosty, tight affair.

It was 0-0 till the 89th minute, when five times Champions League winner Casemiro, rose up and headed past Matt Turner from a Bruno Fernandes freekick, to win United the game.

United had scraped through again…just.

What happened next was something Old Trafford will NEVER forget.

United were drawn at home against fierce rivals Liverpool.

Hopes weren’t high for Ten Hag’s men, with Liverpool looking to complete a treble.

But if there’s one thing to know about United in a big game at Old Trafford, is that they’ll never give up and can always do the seemingly impossible.

Words couldn’t possibly do this game justice.

An end to end classic.

United initially led 1-0 but were 2-1 down at half time.

In the dying embers of the second half, Antony equalised to send it to extra time.

In the 105th minute, Harvey Elliot shattered United hope, restoring Liverpool’s lead.

Just seven minutes later, Marcus Rashford put yet another spanner in the works, by scoring the equaliser.

Penalties felt like destiny.

How else could this utterly ridiculous game be decided?

Just ask Amad Diallo.

In the 120th minute, United broke from a Liverpool corner, they had a two on one, Alejandro Garnacho squared it to Diallo, who still had a lot to do.

Time stopped for that split second when he struck the ball.

It wasn’t hit with much power, but the accuracy, oh it was perfect.

It nestled in the bottom corner and Old Trafford ERUPTED.

This crowd had seen many late winner’s, but this would be right up there with the very best.

A semi-final against Coventry City awaited them.

With Manchester City drawn against Chelsea, surely there couldn’t be another Manchester derby cup final.

Mark Robbins and his Coventry side would have something to say about that though.

And boy did they come close.

Clawing back a 3-0 deficit, Coventry almost did the unthinkable.

In the 121st minute, Robbin’s men had hit the bar just minutes before and United were on the ropes.

Their knees trembling, one more blow and the 12-time winners would be gone.

Coventry struck their final right hook, Victor Torp poked his shot past Andre Onana and the ‘Sky Blues’ had completed a miraculous turnaround.

Or had they?


Disallowed. Offside.


United would just scrape through, winning 4-2 in the shootout.


A horrifying performance, but an FA Cup final against Manchester City was to come…

FA Cup Revenge

Going into the final, very few believed United had even a chance of victory.

Ex Arsenal midfielder turned pundit, Paul Merson, was one of these doubters.

He said: “I can’t see anything but a Man City win in the FA Cup final. They’re head and shoulders above Man Utd.

“If Man Utd beat Man City in the FA Cup final Ten Hag should be knighted.”

Ten Hag could be waiting on his call from Buckingham Palace for a while, but the tactical masterclass in the final, deserves instant plaudits.

The decision to set his side up in a diamond, suppressing all space in midfield, was a masterstroke.

Sofyan Amrabat, Kobbie Mainoo, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes, all had phenomenal games in midfield, neutralising any threat City had in the middle of the park.

Any pockets Player of the Year Phil Foden looked to find, were closed.

Garnacho and Marcus Rashford, provided width and potency, while the back four were tremendous.

For all the critics he’s got this season, Ten Hag got this absolutely perfect and whatever the future holds, he can always hold his head high, knowing he outclassed Guardiola in a cup final.

Has Manchester United’s season been a success?


While the league form and Champions League exit was unacceptable, Ten Hag’s men ended the season with a trophy, and that will hold far more significance in 50 years than securing Champions League qualification would.

Ten Hag’s future is uncertain, but if he is to continue, then this cup final success is the perfect platform to build on, but if it is the end, then he can proudly leave United knowing he brought the first pieces of silverware back to Old Trafford in six years.