Not even the great Cristiano Ronaldo could have saved Manchester United from an embarrassing defeat against Manchester City – but the football icon wasn’t even given a chance as he remained rooted to the bench for the entire match.
Erik ten Hag said Manchester United got what they deserved in a 6-3 thrashing at Manchester City because they didn’t believe they could beat the Premier League champions.
For the second time in just seven league games under Ten Hag, United trailed 4-0 at halftime as City ran riot.
Erling Haaland and Phil Foden completed their hat-tricks after the break and only Anthony Martial’s late double saw United avoid a record-equalling defeat in the Manchester derby.
“It’s quite simple, it’s a lack of belief,” Ten Hag said. “When you don’t believe on the pitch then you can’t win games, that is unacceptable.
“We got undisciplined at following rules and you get hammered, that is what happened today.”
But the decision to leave Ronaldo on the bench for the full 90 minutes raises further questions on what role Ten Hag foresees for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner for the rest of the season.
Ten Hag said he overlooked Ronaldo “out of respect” as he did not want to throw the 37-year-old on with United chasing shadows.
But it wasn’t popular with fans – or Ronaldo’s number one public defender Piers Morgan.
As Ronaldo watched on from the Manchester United bench, Erling Haaland matched the Portuguese’s number of Premier League hat-tricks in City’s latest rout of their local rivals.
“You can see the passes we give each other. We always want to go forward and to attack,” Haaland told Sky Sports.
“It’s what I love about the team. In the end, it’s amazing. There is nothing more to say.”
Ronaldo’s three hat-tricks in the English top flight took the five-time Ballon d’Or winner 232 games. Haaland has needed just eight.
The Norwegian looks set to destroy the record books if he maintains a blistering start to his City career.
Haaland has scored 17 times in 10 competitive games for the English champions. “What Erling is doing he has done in Norway, Austria and Germany,” said City boss Pep Guardiola. “That is the reality.
“So he came and realised my mates run like animals so he has to do it too. And of course the quality we have alongside him helps him to score goals.”
United had bounced back from an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Brentford in August to win their previous four league games.
But any hopes of showing they had closed the gap on City were eviscerated during a first half in which Pep Guardiola’s men could have scored even more.
“For me it was a surprise. We were not on the front foot, we were not brave on the ball and there were spaces to play but we were not brave enough,” added Ten Hag.
“All the credit to City, but it’s nothing to do with City. Our performance was not good. It had to do with the belief as individuals and as team.”
United did show some fight in the second period as Antony fired home his second goal since joining Ten Hag in moving from Ajax to Old Trafford before Martial struck twice in the final six minutes.
The Dutchman was pleased with the reaction his side showed after the break. “In this moment I can’t think about positives. We let our fans down, we let ourselves down,” he said.
“At halftime we changed things and we changed attitude. We saw a different Manchester United after halftime and we scored goals, we created some more.
“On the ball we were more brave, we came in the opponent’s half and we scored three goals.”