A week on from lifting the Carabao Cup and ending the club’s six-year wait for silverware, the Old Trafford giants were brought back down to earth with a bump by Jurgen Klopp’s Reds at a rocking Anfield.
Cody Gakpo’s smart strike had Liverpool ahead at the break and nobody could have foreseen the way United would unravel as an even first half was followed by a shambolic second period.
Gakpo, Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah – who became Liverpool’s all-time leading Premier League scorer – ended the day with two goals apiece, with substitute Roberto Firmino completing a win that will live long in the memory of both clubs.
Sunday’s 7-0 Anfield annihilation equalled United’s record competitive defeat – against Blackburn in 1926, Aston Villa in 1930 and Wolves in 1931 – and infuriated Ten Hag.
“The result is quite obvious,” the Dutchman said. “It’s unprofessional.
“But I think it’s a huge difference in Brentford (in August). We were 4-0 down at half-time, so we started the game very bad.
“Today, first half, I think we were the better team. First half, we created the better chances and we had two one-on-ones with the goalie and they hadn’t.
“Then before half-time we make one mistake (in terms of) organisation and we concede a goal, so I think we were in the game.
“So, it was really a surprise for me that after half-time we so quickly gave the game away.
“First two goals, two defensive transition moments. First was a turnover, second was a counter.
“We make such bad decisions, a matter of decisions on the ball. That was with the first one obviously but then how we anticipate, how we concede that goal is really annoying.
“Then the third was a counter, also so unprofessional about decisions, not following in, then running in, moving forward, giving the space away in the back end of midfield, not tracking back. And especially that one, not tracking back.
“Then it’s 3-0, then the game’s lost. Then as a team you have to stick together and that is what we didn’t do and that was a surprise for me.
“I haven’t seen this from my team I don’t think it’s us. I don’t think it’s Manchester United, so that’s really bad and poor.”
Ten Hag was seething as he spoke in the bowels of Anfield, telling the press conference that United’s players “didn’t cooperate anymore together and they didn’t fulfil their jobs” in the second half.
The group are in for an uncomfortable review at Carrington on Monday, with the Dutchman demanding a response against Real Betis in Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg.
Asked if the players had offered an explanation about their second-half display, Ten Hag said: “No, I didn’t give them the chance until now. I think we have to talk about that.
“I have only given my opinion about it. We will talk about it tomorrow.
“But then I know this team will reset and we have to bounce back. We have shown in the past we can.”
United bounced back from humiliating defeats by Brighton and Brentford in their first two games of the season by beating Liverpool in August. They also made a winning response to October’s 6-3 loss at neighbours Manchester City.
“I have some (similar experiences in my career) that are the bad days,” Ten Hag said.
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“But also (they) are the days if you do the right things, if you react with the right measures as a manager and as a team you can learn a lot from it, you can strengthen your mentality.”
The defeat seemingly extinguishes United’s hopes of a title charge, but their largely positive performances this season means Ten Hag will not get carried away.
“If it was more often then it’s a pattern, but we had so many good results in the last weeks, months, so many good performances,” he added.
“This was a really bad performance, and I talk about the second half, because first half I think this team, our team, played really well. Played really decent.”