Opinion: Manchester United’s win over Coventry City did more damage to Erik ten Hag than benefit

Manchester United won the FA Cup semi-final tie over Coventry City, but at what cost?

Manchester United secured an FA Cup final rematch against Manchester City on Sunday as they beat Championship side Coventry City in the semi-final.

It was anything but an easy affair for Erik ten Hag‘s men, however, despite having started that way. United drew first blood with a Scott McTominay strike in the 23rd minute; by minute 58, they had scored three.

You’d think a score line on the back of the existing league chasm between the two sides would be more than enough to ease the Premier League heavyweights to the full-time whistle, but this is Manchester United we’re talking about, who conceded their first goal from an Ellis Simms strike in the 71st minute; by minute 95th, they had allowed Coventry to draw level.

In the toothless extra time that followed, United almost gave away the game at the end as they conceded a fourth, only for VAR to deem the scorer, Victor Torp, offside by a few inches. Luck chose to be on United’s side, and they snatched the game in the ensuing penalty shootout.

As Antony went off celebrating aggressively in the Coventry players’ faces as Rasmus Højlund slotted home the decisive penalty, the general feeling of the onlooking United fans was of anything but jubilation. There was relief, that a nightmarish performance had somehow not resulted in what would have been a deserving defeat, embarrassment at the way an already-unlikeable Antony decided to celebrate, and a feeling of concern going into the last month of a disappointing season.

Manchester United won the FA Cup semi-final tie over Coventry City, but at what cost?. (Photo by Ian Kington / AFP) / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Both Alejandro Garnacho’s substitution and Antony’s post-match celebrations were thoroughly criticised. (Photo by Ian Kington / AFP) / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

A undeserving, cheerless victory

Upsets are celebrated for a reason, not just in football but in life. Who, after all, does not like a good underdog story?

On a given day, any side is capable of beating any side. When we talk of this Man United side in particular, any opposition would fancy their chances, be they national champions or National League champions.

A United defeat on the day would not have surprised many, least of all United fans, who have seen their side take two steps forwards and three steps back throughout this season. But even then the Red Devils ended up flummoxing the onlookers via the manner in which they allowed Coventry to come back into the game after establishing a comfortable 3-0 lead. It reflectedly poorly on the players as well as the manager.

The offside call that denied Coventry their fourth goal on Sunday has become a subject of yet another existential footballing debate: it was mere inches, there was no deliberate advantage, and yet the call was right. It took away the game from a side that arguably deserved to win the game, but the call was right.

But it just as well could have gone the other way round, and the defeat would have felt right. Gutting, but right. A slap in the face of wannabe Premier League champions who have demonstrated to be capable of nothing but mediocrity since 2013. The victory that arrived in the end, thus, feels even more insulting. Undeserving. Hollow.

That is how the cookie crumbles, though. Teams are handed unfair results all the time. Sometimes teams play well and don’t win, and sometimes United don’t play well and win all the same.

As one takes a giant breath of respite after Sunday, looking ahead sends gulps down the throat again.

No calm waves on the horizon

There is little doubt about the fact that United have been disappointing this season. There is little doubt that they didn’t deserve the victory on Sunday for all their goals.

The Champions League is out of the question for all money. And frankly, United don’t deserve that either. It’s another reality check ahead of next season, which brings with itself yet another new dawn.

Manchester United won the FA Cup semi-final tie over Coventry City, but at what cost?.  (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United this season across all competitions: 45 games, 22 wins, 6 draws, 17 losses. (Source: Transfermarkt) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Six games remain in the Premier League for United to at least bow out with some semblance of the “giant” visage they proudly carry around despite having not been worthy of it in recent years. And then there’s the big game at the end against the local rivals. If United weren’t able to remain composed against the Championship Sky Blues, what chance do they stand against the Champions League ones?

More Manchester United News-

Ten Hag thinks United can beat City. Sure, as mentioned before: underdog stories are possible. But recent performances tell us not to be too expectant for a miracle. At least Coventry came into the semi-final on the back of admirable performances; what do United have to show for themselves? They have six games to make a case for why they might beat a team they have beaten only once since March 2020.

And sure, they may beat them. But that cannot and must not insulate the team and their manager from criticism. Just like the last Dutchman that preceded him on the Old Trafford throne, Ten Hag better be aware that lifting the FA Cup trophy will no longer be enough to save his job.