Man Utd: Why defeat to Spurs was so much worse than Liverpool losing to Aston Villa

Harry Kane and Heung-min Son celebrate scoring at Old Trafford

On an afternoon that will be remembered for a bizarre amount of goals, Premier League champions Liverpool being bested 7-2 by an Aston Villa side that were almost relegated last season probably looks a lot worse than Manchester United’s 6-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur.

But scratch a little deeper and read between the scorelines, and United’s defeat at Old Trafford feels a lot more damaging, embarrassing and concerning than the 7-2 drubbing Jurgen Klopp’s side endured at Villa Park.

Neither side will find too many silver linings as they reflect on very humbling Sunday outings, but there are ten clear reasons why United’s horror loss was so much worse than Liverpool’s own ninety-minute nightmare…

Liverpool were always trying to win the game

Mohamed Salah gets the ball out of the net against Aston Villa

It may not make much difference in the history books but there are right ways and wrong ways of suffering an unexpected hammering, and Liverpool were at least looking to win the game right up until the final whistle.

They were still producing efforts at goal in the 90th minute and recorded four shots in total after the last goal of the afternoon, around a quarter of an hour prior.

United, on the other hand, made their ultimate attempt on goal on the 54-minute mark, and Solskjaer even hinted after the match that once the score had got to 4-1, his focus switched to damage limitation - essentially conceding the result with the best part of an hour still to play.

Pretty shocking for a club that under Sir Alex Ferguson prided itself on glorious comebacks.

xG suggests Liverpool were unluckier than Manchester United

Jurgen Klopp claps as Liverpool lose to Aston Villa

With so many deflected goals there was certainly an element of misfortune about Liverpool’s 7-2 scoreline, even if few would dispute Villa fully deserved the win, and expected goals statistics back up the idea that the Premier League champions were unluckier than their North West rivals.

Liverpool’s expected goals against on Sunday was 3.08 yet they ended up conceding more than double that, while United’s was 3.30 and they eventually conceded six - that’s a gap of 3.92, compared to 2.70. Likewise, United’s expected goals for was just 0.87, which is actually abysmal considering they scored from the penalty spot, whereas Liverpool were statistically due 1.66 goals. 

Pretty fine margins numerically but when combined with the nature of some of Villa’s strikes, the Anfield outfit can count themselves a little unlucky that the score was so heavily against them. 

United played well for one minute

Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring a penalty

In some ways, this unavoidable truth is perhaps the most startling thing about Sunday’s performance at Old Trafford - United played well for just one minute, and then atrociously for the remaining 89. Some clever play from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes earned them a penalty, which the latter converted, but within five minutes of that the Red Devils were somehow already losing 2-1.

It at least took 22 minutes for Liverpool to concede twice, and there were prolonged periods of the game where they created chances, controlled possession and had Villa pinned back. United simply didn’t look in the game after Spurs had overturned their early deficit, and only continued to look more and more out of it as the game went on.

Liverpool were exploited, but United imploded

Anthony Martial heads down the tunnel after being sent off

Perhaps the best way of defining the difference between the two performances. Neither team will see many positives in what happened on Sunday but Liverpool can at least feel they were outsmarted by a side that identified a weakness - chiefly, a failure to press effectively without Sadio Mane and the subsequent potential to hit Liverpool with precise, direct passes into the channels. 

It’s certainly alarming that Premier League champions can be so exposed, but nonetheless there’s an obvious problem for them to try and fix before domestic football resumes.
United, on the other hand, simply imploded.

Their first concede of the day saw Harry Maguire create a penalty box mess genuinely befitting of Sunday League, Anthony Martial managed to get himself sent off for utter petulance, Spurs were gifted a third goal through sloppy passing out the back and Serge Aurier was given the freedom of the park to set up Son for the killer fourth - and that was with just 37 minutes on the clock.

The Red Devils then left the Ivorian wing-back free again as he scored in the second half, and that was followed by the whole team completely losing its discipline. Luke Shaw should have seen red for hacking down Lucas Moura in the 84th minute, simply because he couldn’t be bothered to chase him back anymore, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Paul Pogba both produced embarrassingly wild, reckless and lazy slide tackles in the build up to Harry Kane’s late penalty.

For Liverpool, it’s obvious what they need to address. For United, it’s almost impossible to know where to start. Attitude was an even bigger problem than the lack of quality they showed.

United’s captain produced arguably their worst performance of the day

Harry Maguire stares in disbelief as Man United lose to Tottenham

It wasn’t a good day to be a defender for either club but in times of strife, you expect your captain to at least be amongst the best of a bad bunch - to not be quite as culpable as many of the players around him, to show some genuine passion and to try and rouse something out of his team-mates.

But Maguire was probably United’s worst performer on Sunday, albeit closely followed by Shaw. Between them, the pair made an absolute mess of the left side of United’s defence and the calamitous, comedic defending for the first goal which saw the former inexplicably drag the latter to the floor pretty much summed up the afternoon.

Maguire had the worst Whoscored rating of any United player on Sunday, while BBC readers issued him a rating of just 1.85/10 - the lowest rating any Premier League player has received this season.

Virgil van Dijk won’t exactly be holding his head high either, but at least he wasn’t an intrinsic element of a defensive catastrophe and team-wide implosion in quite the same way. And the question now is a simple one: how does Maguire rally the troops when he was arguably the most at fault?

United's defeat came against their former manager

Jose Mourinho sits in the dugout at Old Trafford

Something which should really humble the Old Trafford hierarchy. A bit like Barcelona being put in their place by Philippe Coutinho in the Champions League last season - a player who was deemed so useless to them that he was loaned to a direct European rival - Jose Mourinho returned to the club that pinned all their problems on him and emphatically proved they run a lot deeper.

The Special One was by no means shy about his joy at beating his former club on their own patch and to be frank, why should he be? The club failed to back him during his last summer in the job, when he ironically wanted defensive reinforcements, and let him take the flack a few months later.

But while Mourinho’s proving he can still mix it up at the sharper end of the Premier League, his surprise replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks out of his depth. It’s a subplot that serves as the most painful of salt in United’s many wounds.

Liverpool have largely looked the part, United have been abysmal in the Premier League

Harry Maguire looks on as Wilfried Zaha celebrates

Putting this down as simply a freak result for Liverpool might be a little too apologetic. They did concede three goals to Leeds on the opening day of the season and clearly there’s something amiss with the defensive structure of the team.

But overall, the Reds have largely looked the part at the start of 2020/21. They’ve already beaten two top sides in Chelsea and Arsenal and took maximum points from their first three games.
United, on the other hand, were ripped apart by Crystal Palace in their previous home game and were lucky to beat Brighton 3-2. The Seagulls played them off the park at times and were it not for some late VAR drama would have left the south coast with just a point.

Overall, United just haven’t been at the races this season - Sunday’s result was symptomatic of that and just the latest in a string of bad performances.

Aston Villa entered the game in good form - Spurs have been inconsistent at best

Aston Villa celebrate a goal against Fulham

Another factor that really puts the two performances into context. Aston Villa entered Sunday’s game full of confidence having enjoyed back-to-back wins in the Premier League without conceding, including a 3-0 drubbing of Fulham that contained some fantastic football.

Spurs, in contrast, have been inconsistent at best this term. They’re yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League, they lost to Everton and could only draw with Newcastle, and even in the 5-2 win over Southampton were pretty underwhelming in the first half.

That’s not to say Villa are a better side than Spurs - in fact, the reality is the exact opposite. But Liverpool at least faced Villa at something of a tricky time, whereas Tottenham had struggled to impress heading into Sunday’s game.

Six-pointer for United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shares a joke with Hugo Lloris

Of course, defeat to a team that finished just a point above the relegation zone last season is never a good look for reigning champions, but at least the loss to Villa doesn’t create a drastic swing in the Premier League table in the same way as United’s defeat does.

While it’s still early in the season, this game was very much a six-pointer for both teams. Spurs and United are direct divisional rivals and Champions League qualification will be a primary objective for both clubs this season.

United have already surrendered valuable points to a competitor in the race for the top four, and although Liverpool have now dropped points too as they seek to defend the title, at least their loss came against a team that won’t be challenging them for positional superiority once we reach the business end of the campaign.

United defeat comes on the backdrop of a terrible transfer window

Ed Woodward in the stands at Old Trafford

It’s as inevitable as it is superficial to tie in United’s result with a pretty shocking transfer window.
Nonetheless, this defeat comes at the worst possible time for the Red Devils as they look set to end the summer by bringing in nothing more than a midfielder who provides squad depth in Donny van de Beek and a 33-year-old Edinson Cavani who’s way beyond his peak, despite such obvious limitations in their starting XI.

Liverpool haven’t splashed the cash much either but having won the Champions League and the Premier League over the last two seasons, this summer’s arrivals have astutely given Klopp more options rather than directly improving the first team.

Sunday’s humiliation now places massive pressure on United to bring in reinforcements as the deadline looms - that usually results in clubs making some very panicked decisions in the transfer market and gives selling clubs license to squeeze them for every penny.

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