Manchester United 2023/24 battered in awkward comparison after laughable Ten Hag apology

Matt Stead
Manchester United players Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, manager Erik ten Hag and forwards Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo
Is there any weight to Erik ten Hag's Manchester United comparison?

Erik ten Hag apologised to Manchester United supporters while drawing comparison with the 2004/05 season; that equivalence only damns the Dutchman further.

After a home draw with Burnley, Ten Hag deflected yet more criticism of the current side by pointing out that the 2004/05 Manchester United team “didn’t play that great football, they were building. It takes time.”

He might not want to make the comparison again, put it that way.


Who was better in the Premier League?
The 2004/05 vintage finished 3rd on 77 points, 18 behind Jose Mourinho’s dominant Chelsea. They won 22 games, drew 11 and lost only five: two to the Blues, then once each to Portsmouth (16th), Everton (4th) and Norwich (19th).

The 2023/24 side can finish no higher than 5th, are on for two Premier League club-record lows and currently sit 26 points off leaders Arsenal. They have four games remaining, having won 16, drawn six and lost 12: once to the Gunners, twice to Manchester City (2nd), and once each to Spurs (5th), Newcastle (7th), West Ham (8th), Chelsea (9th), Bournemouth (10th), Brighton (12th), Fulham (13th), Crystal Palace (14th) and Nottingham Forest (17th).

Manchester United 04/05 were better by almost every measure. They lead 1-0.


Who was better against their closest rivals?
The 2004/05 side had a record of W5 D2 L3 F14 A10 Pts17 against the rest of the top six (Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Bolton).

The 2023/24 team has a record W2 D3 L3 F10 A19 Pts9 against the rest of the top six (Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Spurs), with one game remaining at home to current leaders Arsenal.

Manchester United 04/05 fared much better against the teams closest to them. They lead 2-0.


Who had the better Champions League run?
In 2004/05, Manchester United were drawn against Lyon (1st, Ligue Un), Fenerbahce (1st, Turkish Super Lig) and Sparta Prague (1st, Czech First League). They won three games, drew two and lost one, scoring 14 goals and conceding nine to finish second and advance.

They then lost 2-0 on aggregate to AC Milan (2nd, Serie A) in the last 16. Milan would go on to reach the final.

In 2023/24, Manchester United were drawn against Bayern Munich (2nd, Bundesliga), Galatasaray (1st, Turkish Super Lig) and Copenhagen (3rd, Danish Superliga). They won one game, drew one and lost four, scoring 12 goals and conceding 15 to finish bottom and be eliminated from Europa entirely.

Bayern are in the semi-finals; Copenhagen were knocked out in the last 16; Galatasaray were beaten in the first Europa League knockout round.

An easy Manchester United 04/05 victory. They lead 3-0.

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Who had the better cup runs?
Both sides have reached the FA Cup final; this season is the first since 2004/05 that Manchester United have made consecutive FA Cup finals.

In 2004/05, they beat Exeter (6th, Conference), Middlesbrough (7th, Premier League), Everton (4th, Premier League), Southampton (20th, Premier League) and Newcastle (14th, Premier League), before losing to Arsenal (reigning champions who finished 2nd) in the final. Their opponents had an average placing of 29th in the league pyramid.

In 2023/24, they beat Wigan (12th, League One), Newport (18th, League Two), Nottingham Forest (17th, Premier League), Liverpool (3rd, Premier League) and Coventry (9th, Championship) in the semi-finals, before facing Manchester City (reigning champions who are 2nd) in the final. Their opponents had an average placing of 38th in the league pyramid.

In 2004/05, they reached the League Cup semi-finals by beating Crewe (21st, Championship), Crystal Palace (18th, Premier League) and Arsenal (2nd, Premier League), before losing 2-1 on aggregate to Chelsea (1st, Premier League). Their opponents had an average placing of 16th.

In 2023/24, they reached the League Cup fourth round by beating Crystal Palace (14th, Premier League), before losing 3-0 to Newcastle (7th, Premier League). Their opponents had an average league placing of 11th.

Both sides reached the FA Cup final but the 04/05 run was harder, plus they went much further in the League Cup. Another win to lead 4-0.


Who scored more goals?
In 2004/05, Manchester United scored 99 goals in 60 games across all competitions (58 in 38 in the Premier League, 15 in seven in the FA Cup, seven in five in the League Cup and 19 in 10 in the Champions League). That is an average of 1.65 goals scored per game.

In 2023/24 so far, Manchester United have scored 81 goals in 47 games across all competitions (52 in 34 in the Premier League, 14 in five in the FA Cup, three in two in the League Cup and 12 in six in the Champions League). That is an average of 1.72 goals scored per game.

Manchester United 23/24 pull one back with a narrow win. Ten Hag was right: they are “one of the most dynamic and entertaining teams in the league”. And they trail 4-1.


Who had the better defence?
In 2004/05, Manchester United conceded 41 goals in 60 games across all competitions (26 in 38 in the Premier League, one in seven in the FA Cup, two in five in the League Cup and 12 in 10 in the Champions League). That is an average of 0.68 goals conceded per game.

In 2023/24 so far, Manchester United have conceded 78 goals in 47 games across all competitions (52 in 34 in the Premier League, eight in five in the FA Cup, three in two in the League Cup and 15 in six in the Champions League). That is an average of 1.66 goals conceded per game.

A hilarious victory for Manchester United 04/05, who conceded an average of almost a goal a game less than their 23/24 counterparts. They lead 5-1.


Who had the better players?
Sir Alex Ferguson used 31 different players in 2004/05, with the 23 who played 10 games or more having an average age of 24.9. Only Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane were aged over 28.

Ten Hag has used 32 different players in 2023/24, with the 24 who played 10 games or more having an average age of 26.6. Seven players are aged over 28, including serial Champions League winners in Raphael Varane and Casemiro, and former and current captains in Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes.

A reminder that the Dutchman believes this to be a young squad which needs “time” to “build”. He has given a combined 8,972 minutes to players aged 21 or under, compared to the 11,462 minutes given to players aged 21 or under in 2004/05.

Both teams were constructed around young forwards (Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in 04/05; Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund in 23/24), with academy products breaking through in midfield (Darren Fletcher and Kobbie Mainoo) around established spines.

But how do the squads specifically stack up? Is Ten Hag’s comparison in any way relevant?


Goalkeeper: Roy Carroll and Tim Howard shared the gloves in 2004/05, with the former used slightly more frequently. Andre Onana, for all his faults, is better than both (unless trying to clear a high ball on the edge of the six-yard box against a tall centre-forward).

Altay Bayindir conceded twice on his debut against Newport and has not played since; his quality as a stand-in is difficult to determine. And take your pick between bench-dwelling third-choice olds heads in either Ricardo or Tom Heaton.

Manchester United 23/24 take this one. They trail 5-2.

Right-back: It is no doubt a low-scoring battle but even with his powers on the wane Neville beats Diogo Dalot. Brother Phil provides ample back-up and both would quite clearly make phenomenal managers in the future.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka could tackle them all simultaneously but not do a great deal besides, particularly beyond the halfway line.

Manchester United 04/05 take this one. They lead 6-2.

Centre-half: Rio Ferdinand wins this one single-handedly at a hilarious canter. Any of Gabriel Heinze, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Jonathan Spector, Gerard Pique, Maguire, Varane, Victor Lindelof, Jonny Evans, Lisandro Martinez or Willy Kambwala would make for better pundits but the numbers speak for themselves. Manchester United 04/05 conceded 41 goals all season; Manchester United 23/24 reached that mark by December 23, 26 games into the campaign.

Manchester United 04/05 take this one. They lead 7-2.

Left-back: Six different players have started a Premier League game at left-back for Manchester United in 23/24. Their injury crisis has left Ten Hag largely without the indurable Luke Shaw, while Tyrell Malacia’s existence has been an unprovable concept for months.

The duties in 04/05 were shared largely by Mikael Silvestre and Heinze, with Kieran Richardson pitching in where needed. All things being even, they probably still edge it.

Manchester United 04/05 take an 8-2 lead. Apologies, Arsenal fans.

Right-wing: Ronaldo against Antony, is it? There is at least one similarity between the two but redacted, redacted, redacted. So look at the basic numbers from what was an ordinary Ronaldo season shortly before his ungodly transformation: nine goals and nine assists in 50 games.

Antony’s entire Manchester United career comprises 11 goals, five assists and one shush of Coventry in 80 appearances. It’s a landslide.

Manchester United 04/05 take a 9-2 lead.

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Central midfield: Keane has been eviscerating Manchester United from the comfort of a studio seat and even winding towards the end of his playing career almost two decades ago, would have had the beating of his fellow 32-year-old Champions League winner Casemiro.

Keane was most regularly flanked by Alan Smith, with Quinton Fortune, Darren Fletcher, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller and Kleberson in reserve.

Casemiro’s entirely necessary support act includes Kobbie Mainoo, Scott McTominay, Sofyan Amrabat, Christian Eriksen and Mason Mount. They can hold out for a very generous draw overall.

Left-winger: Giggs versus Garnacho is actually a fair fight. The latter has nine goals and five assists in 45 games this season in a worse side than the former, who managed eight goals and 11 assists in 44 games.

Marcus Rashford obviously comes into the equation too. Eight goals and five assists in 40 games is massively underwhelming in comparison to previous campaigns but it stands up to scrutiny relatively well here.

Another draw and the scores remain at 9-2 to 04/05.

Attacking midfield: A titanic clash between Scholes and Fernandes, this. The woeful slide-tackler against the petulant man-child. Both were pretty decent on the ball, mind, and established leaders aged 29 when their campaigns started. And again, in the context of these specific seasons, difficult to separate. Next.

Strikers: Manchester United trusted young new signings to lead the line in both 04/05 and 23/24. A teenaged Rooney undeniably handled that pressure better than the floppy 21-year-old Hojlund.

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha have been slightly better alternatives than Anthony Martial, who is not even the best or highest-scoring Frenchman to take into account. David Bellion settles it.

Manchester United 04/05 take another point to go 10-2 up.


It comes as no particular surprise that the 2004/05 iteration of Manchester United was in a considerably better state in many ways to the 2023/24 version. But beyond an FA Cup run and the integration of young players around an experienced core, there are barely any similarities between the two teams.

The 2023/24 side is slightly better in attack but concedes far more, loses far more, wins far less and does not exactly feel as though it is on the cusp of winning the Champions League and Premier League. Not sure it would hold up too well in the Conference League. Ten Hag seems more than happy with it but Sir Jim Ratcliffe and co. probably don’t share that sentiment.