United just a cup team: Keane

Liverpool's match-winner Xherdan Shaqiri celebrating his second goal against Manchester United with teammate Roberto Firmino at Anfield. It was the Swiss playmaker's fifth league goal of the season.
Liverpool's match-winner Xherdan Shaqiri celebrating his second goal against Manchester United with teammate Roberto Firmino at Anfield. It was the Swiss playmaker's fifth league goal of the season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Jose Mourinho looking forlorn on the bench on Sunday. Manchester United have now let in 29 goals, one more than the whole of last season.
Jose Mourinho looking forlorn on the bench on Sunday. Manchester United have now let in 29 goals, one more than the whole of last season.PHOTO: REUTERS

Former stars slam 'awful' Devils; Mourinho laments he inherited a 'permanently injured' squad

LONDON • Having experienced the heady highs of Sir Alex Ferguson's trophy-laden reign, it has pained former Manchester United stars Gary Neville and Roy Keane to see the club go from perennial title favourites to also-rans.

While the Red Devils have been in decline since the retirement of their greatest manager in 2013, at no time was the contrast between the haves and have-nots more stark than at Anfield on Sunday.

Ferguson, who was caught on camera looking on in disgust during United's 3-1 loss, had stepped away from football in the knowledge he had "knocked Liverpool off their perch".

But the Reds, under Jurgen Klopp, are threatening to return to the summit of English football and, on current form, the unbeaten league leaders have to be considered the front runners to land their first league title since 1990.

The defeat by a two-goal margin failed to tell the full story of Liverpool's dominance. They racked up a league record of 36 shots, the most United have faced even if only 11 were on target. And the Red Devils have now let in 29 goals, one more than the whole of last term.

On the other hand, the home side, with only seven goals conceded, can boast the best defensive record in the league - something that used to be a Jose Mourinho hallmark - and Neville referenced that on BBC Five Live, declaring Liverpool to be "streets ahead".

He said: "Not one of the United midfielders can pass a football. I find it staggering. United were awful. It's not good enough."

  • 1990

    Manchester United's 26 points after 17 Premier League games is their worst points haul since 1990-91 (26 points).

    19

    United's points gap to Liverpool after 17 games, their worst in a top-flight season.

    36

    Shots United faced at Liverpool, their worst in the league since Opta started recording shot data in 2003-04.

The pundit also told Sky Sports he believed Mourinho was on borrowed time at Old Trafford, saying: "I think it (the sacking) will happen, my preference would always be to get to the end of the season.

"But the boardroom is so naive, it's unbelievable. The minute he came back from pre-season, he was at it and the club was out of control. Nobody above him can handle him. It will cost a fortune to lose him now. The club needs to reset."

Keane was equalling scathing, labelling the side he used to skipper as "an average Premier League side, nothing more".

Writing off their chances of silverware, he said: "They are Manchester United of the 1980s, a decent cup team."

Pundit Robbie Savage, who came through United's academy, felt the Portuguese manager could have "no excuses" as he had "over £100 million (S$173 million) on the bench".

 
 
 

He said: "They've spent plenty of money, they've brought players in. To be this far behind (19 points from the top) is ridiculous. It's not acceptable. They're not going to win the Champions League, they're not going to get into the top four. Where are they going?"

One player who was left kicking his heels as an unused substitute was £89 million club-record signing Paul Pogba.

He was not named in the United starting XI for a third straight league game while Fred, a £50 million summer recruit, was not even part of the squad. Pundits unanimously agreed that the France midfielder's time at the club, like Mourinho, was also coming to an end.

Savage added: "I don't think Pogba has a future at the club. The big question is, who will be at United longer, Mourinho or Pogba?"

With United now off to their worst league start since 1990-91, Mourinho cut a deflated figure at his post-match press conference, conceding that his side could not live with Klopp's men playing "200 miles per hour with the ball and without the ball".

And the 55-year-old tried to blame his sacked predecessors, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, saying that he had inherited a squad that is "permanently injured".

"Some of our players are always injured and it's not with me - it was before me. If you look to the stats with van Gaal and David, we had players who are permanently injured and physicality is difficult to get," he insisted.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'United just a cup team: Keane'. Print Edition | Subscribe