Sir Alex Ferguson experienced a fair few embarrassing afternoons but the humiliations have really ramped up for Man Utd this decade. Liverpool are bullies.
Tottenham 4 Man Utd 1 (January 1, 1996)
The William Prunier game, in which he was far less culpable than Paul Parker, either Neville brother or Kevin Pilkington for a chastening defeat to a Chris Armstrong-inspired Spurs. It was nevertheless the French centre-half’s second and final appearance for Man Utd as he declined an extension to his trial period. Teddy Sheringham and Sol Campbell also netted, both showing the requisite talent of future Champions League final goalscorers.
What happened next: A 12-game unbeaten run which obliterated Newcastle’s 12-point lead at the summit en route to title number three.
Newcastle 5 Man Utd 0 (October 20, 1996)
The Philippe Albert game, in which he reminded Peter Schmeichel of the perennial dangers of trying to make yourself look big. The Belgian’s chip made him the fifth different scorer in a true humbling of the unbeaten champions, following Darren Peacock, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer. Sir Alex Ferguson blamed it on a “mentally and physically exhausting” trip to Turkey for a Champions League tie; Man Utd had at least beaten Fenerbahce four days prior.
What happened next: Well…
Southampton 6 Man Utd 3 (October 26, 1996)
Not the grey kit game, despite the fairly common misconception. That came six months before in a 3-1 defeat but there were no possible excuses for a second consecutive loss at The Dell, with Matt Le Tissier, Egil Ostenstad and Eyal Berkovic in destructive form. Roy Keane was sent off for two yellow cards in the 21st minute, a late flurry of goals meant 3-2 in the 82nd minute became 6-3 by full-time, and a 21-year-old Graham Potter popped up for a second-half substitute cameo.
What happened next: They lost at home to Chelsea but then embarked on a 16-game unbeaten run that took them from sixth to first, where they would remain and lift the title.
Chelsea 5 Man Utd 0 (October 3, 1999)
What a way to sacrifice a 29-game unbeaten run in the Premier League. Gus Poyet scored after 27 seconds, Massimo Taibi dropped a bollock, Nicky Butt was sent off for being shithoused by Dennis Wise and even Chris Sutton scored a goal. Leeds replaced Man Utd at the top of the table.
What happened next: Defeat to Spurs followed three weeks later but United then picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, cast off the hapless Taibi and won the title by 18 points.
Manchester City 4 Man Utd 1 (March 14, 2004)
Less than a week after being eliminated from the Champions League by Porto as some heritage-loving bloke sprinted down the touchline, Man Utd were sent spiralling even further by their lowly neighbours. The eclectic quartet of Robbie Fowler, Jon Macken, Trevor Sinclair and Shaun Wright-Phillips punished a pretty ordinary side which languished 12 points behind Arsenal but enjoyed a decent cushion to Champions League qualification rivals Charlton, Newcastle and Birmingham. Eh?
What happened next: Man Utd found their feet by subsequently beating Spurs – obviously – and somehow held off those irresistible challengers, but summarily failed to reel in Invincible Arsenal or newly-minted Chelsea.
Middlesbrough 4 Man Utd 1 (October 29, 2005)
The Roy Keane MUTV interview game, after which the Irishman stared intimidatingly and unimpressed at the crystal ball that teased his future scathing punditry career because that’s its job. The midfielder missed the defeat through injury but saw enough from his vantage point of a bar at a Dubai hotel to lay into Edwin van der Sar, Darren Fletcher, Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand, among others, during an interview with the club’s in-house media the following week. At least Gaizka Mendieta enjoyed himself.
What happened next: Keane would never play for the club again but Man Utd fared well enough without him, embarking on an 11-game unbeaten run which took them from seventh to their eventual finish of second.
Man Utd 1 Liverpool 4 (March 14, 2009)
A series of costly winter draws had left Liverpool seven points adrift of leaders Man Utd by the time they visited Old Trafford, their hosts having been inspired to 11 straight victories in part by Rafa Benitez. But then Nemanja Vidic slipped, Steven Gerrard kissed the camera, Vidic was sent off, Fabio Aurelio scored a free-kick and Andrea Dossena lobbed Edwin van der Sar to inject some drama into the title race.
What happened next: Man United lost their next game 2-0 to Fulham – the first time in five years they had lost back-to-back matches – but recovered to remain unbeaten for the rest of the season and claim the crown.
Man Utd 1 Manchester City 6 (October 23, 2011)
Their heaviest home defeat for 56 years and the first time they had conceded six at home since being shafted 7-4 by Newcastle in the relegation season of 1930/31, described by Ferguson as “the worst result in my history”. He also said that “we kept attacking when we went 4–1 down and we should have just said, ‘We’ve had our day’,” which sounds familiar. And here is another theme: ten-man Man Utd (Jonny Evans had seen red) were heading towards a less embarrassing 3-1 defeat but they collapsed in the final minutes to complete the total humiliation of being shafted on their home turf by their noisy neighbours.
What happened next: Man Utd won eight and drew one of their next nine league games, eventually regaining top spot by March. But they could not hold onto it and if you don’t know why then you’re in the wrong place.
📆 On this day, exactly 11 years ago, Manchester City demolished Manchester United 6-1 in their own back yard. 6⃣
Mario Balotelli's mythical "Why Always Me?" celebration was 🥶 pic.twitter.com/mHGCyS9AZU
— Football Tweet ⚽ (@Football__Tweet) October 23, 2022
Man Utd 0 Liverpool 3 (March 16, 2014)
Luis Suarez tore Man Utd apart. Steven Gerrard should have scored a hat-trick of penalties. The hosts had one shot on target. ‘David Moyes is a football genius,’ crowed the away end, the beleaguered manager having committed the pre-match cardinal sin of declaring that Liverpool “possibly do come here as favourites”.
What happened next: Manchester City helped themselves to a 3-0 win at Old Trafford nine days later, with a Wayne Rooney double at West Ham offering brief respite in between. By April 22, Moyes was gone.
Leicester City 5 Man Utd 3 (September 21, 2014)
The first time in 30 years that Man Utd had lost having led by two goals, with Louis van Gaal’s side 2-0 and 3-1 up before collapsing after a controversial penalty. “Leicester had five shots on goal, and that was it. These five goals were existing because we made errors in ball possession,” said Louis van Gaal. It cannot have helped that Tyler Blackett was somehow keeping Chris Smalling on the bench; Jamie Vardy feasted with his first ever Premier League goal, two assists and a pair of penalties won, converted by Dave Nugent and Leonardo Ulloa.
What happened next: Man Utd lost only one of their next 15 games but could never quite pull themselves higher than third. They ended the season in fourth, which at least got them back into Europe.
Chelsea 4 Man Utd 0 (October 23, 2016)
Remember that phase Sky Sports went through when the build-up to every huge televised game had to be accompanied with some form of tagline? Red Monday for the single most boring goalless draw between Liverpool and Man Utd in January 2017 was a particular favourite. But this one was The Return, unhappy as it was for Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Pedro scored in the opening minute and things only descended from there as Antonio Conte apparently larged it up a little too much. Not like him.
What happened next: The most uninspiring 25-game unbeaten league run in recorded history. Man Utd drew 12 and won 13 matches between then and May but never rose higher than fifth in the table, with Europa League success restoring their Champions League place instead.
Everton 4 Man Utd 0 (April 21, 2019)
“Some of them won’t be here next year,” was the warning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer issued to his Man Utd players after Marco Silva’s side crushed their spirits. They all were. David de Gea, Diogo Dalot, Fred, Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Anthony Martial started that day. Chris Smalling, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku did eventually leave, but then again so did Solskjaer.
What happened next: Defeats to Manchester City and Cardiff, as well as draws with Chelsea and Huddersfield, meant Man Utd ended the season on a five-game winless run to finish sixth, the Solskjaer caretaker honeymoon period officially over.
Man Utd 0 Burnley 2 (January 22, 2020)
A record-breaking season included Crystal Palace’s first win at Old Trafford since 1989, Steve Bruce’s first win over Man Utd on his 22nd attempt, a defeat to Watford which represented their heaviest Premier League defeat against a team starting the day bottom in 15 years and Mikel Arteta’s first win as Arsenal manager, before Burnley turned the Red Devils over with their first ever Premier League win at Old Trafford. Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez scored. The home fans booed at half and full-time. Solskjaer, with an eye on the final week or so of the January transfer window, said: “Hopefully we can get something over the line.”
What happened next: Man Utd got something over the line. Bruno Fernandes joined for £46.6m and he was sensational, dragging the club to Champions League qualification behind closed doors as Player of the Year. It seemed like he’d even make a decent captain one day.
Man Utd 1 Tottenham 6 (October 4, 2020)
Ah yes, the day Man Utd and Liverpool contrived to concede 13 goals between them. The latter did marginally more of the heavy lifting as Aston Villa beat the reigning champions 7-2, but that could not completely distract from the nature of another Old Trafford capitulation. They actually led through a second-minute Fernandes penalty but Tanguy Ndombele, Heung-min Son, Harry Kane and best of all Serge Aurier were not to be silenced. Solskjaer called it “the worst day of my career as Manchester United manager and the worst day for all of them as United players”. Oh poor, naive Ole…
What happened next: Newcastle were vanquished at St James’ Park before a functional goalless draw with Chelsea prevented any more bloodshed. But then Arsenal beat them at Old Trafford. Solskjaer steadied himself at the wheel to coax an unconvincing runners-up finish.
Man Utd 1 Sheffield United 2 (January 27, 2021)
It could actually have been so much more. Man Utd went top on January 20 with a win at Fulham, leapfrogging Leicester and Manchester City to open up a two-point gap at the summit. A genuine title challenge had been mustered against all odds and Sheffield United, with five points from 19 games and winless away for almost an entire year, were fodder as visitors. Yet Kean Bryan and Oliver Burke cancelled out Harry Maguire’s header to undermine any championship pretence in chastening fashion.
What happened next: Five draws in their next seven games further damaged Man Utd’s credentials, even if a 3-1 win over Newcastle and a 9-0 battering of Southampton in that run proved their underlying quality.
Man Utd 0 Liverpool 5 (October 24, 2021)
Liverpool were one-up after five minutes, doubling that advantage before the quarter-hour mark and heading into half-time four goals ahead. By the time substitute Paul Pogba was sent off on the hour, Mo Salah had already completed his hat-trick to make it 5-0 to the visitors, who showed enough mercy to rest their legs in the closing stages.
What happened next: They beat Spurs – obviously – in a result Daniel Levy found so embarrassing he sacked Nuno Espirito Santo. Then Manchester City came to Old Trafford and inflicted upon their hosts a 2-0 win less emphatic by scoreline but every bit as laughably easy as Liverpool’s victory a fortnight earlier.
Watford 4 Man Utd 1 (November 20, 2021)
After that came the final straw of far too many as Claudio Ranieri’s relegation-battling Watford forced Man Utd to take action. Solskjaer was sacked in the aftermath of a loss which saw the Hornets score twice in stoppage time, Harry Maguire having been dismissed in the 69th minute at 2-1 down.
What happened next: Michael Carrick came in for a short while and justifiably caught Middlesbrough’s eye.
Manchester City 4 Man Utd 1 (March 6, 2022)
Liverpool 4 Man Utd 0 (April 19, 2022)
Brighton 4 Man Utd 0 (May 7, 2022)
Brentford 4 Man Utd 0 (August 13, 2022)
Manchester City 6 Man Utd 3 (October 2, 2022)
Liverpool 7 Man Utd 0 (March 5, 2023)
Over the course of 365 days, Man Utd perfected the art of the stark defeat and made sure to share them out equally between Ralf Rangnick and Erik ten Hag’s tenures. The hallmarks were there in each: a team assembled at immense expense being shamed into collective petulant incompetence by a side either coached or run far better, if not both. It is an awful habit that is yet to be broken.