The only team that could win twice and still lose was Manchester United under Erik ten Hag. There won’t be a chapter in their incredible 2023–24 season that is more puzzling than the one that details their Champions League collapse in Copenhagen on Wednesday.
The home crowd’s pregame tifo, which forewarned United that Parken Stadium was “Your Theatre of Nightmares,” couldn’t have been more accurate.
Despite being down to 10 players after Marcus Rashford was sent off in the first half, Man U cruised to a 2-0 lead after 30 minutes and then took the lead again at 3-2 on 69 minutes. However, United threw away the victory against FC Copenhagen with a lackluster defense in the closing minutes, as the home team scored twice in the final seven minutes to win 4-3 and drop United to the bottom of Group A with two games remaining.
And at the end, cries of “Roony, Roony” echoed from Parken Stadium, adding to the absurdity of Man U’s suffering. Instead of honoring Wayne Rooney, the former great of United, let’s pay homage to Roony Bardghji, a 17-year-old forward who scored Copenhagen’s game-winning goal in the 88th minute.
“This was our weakest performance in the group so far,” Copenhagen coach Jacob Neestrup said. “But we deserve this win for our performances in the other three games.”
To be fair, Manchester United’s ninth loss in 17 games across all competitions was not entirely the result of Ten Hag and his team’s errors; Rashford was given a red card by VAR, and Harry Maguire’s harsh handball call that resulted in a penalty gave the Man U’s team a false start after Rasmus Hojlund scored twice against his home team.
But until Rashford was sent off in the 42nd minute for using the sole of his boot to catch Elias Jelert above the shin, a foul that referee Donatas Rumsas missed before being flagged by VAR, United appeared to be headed for an easy win after their finest performance of the year.
However, as soon as Rashford emerged from the tunnel, Ten Hag’s team’s vulnerability—which has been shown throughout the season when it faces hardships—resurfaced. United’s lead was erased by Copenhagen by goals from Mohamed Elyounoussi and Diogo Gonçalves before halftime.
It was evident that United’s resolve was put to the test in the second half. Could they put an end to their inconsistent play and show the tenacity necessary to secure a draw or even a victory?
It was initially in the affirmative. In an attempt to add a more defensive element to his midfield, Ten Hag substituted Sofyan Amrabat for Christian Eriksen at halftime. Despite being down a man, United managed to frustrate the home team and take the game to its limit.
And when United’s penalty was given in the 66th minute for a handball committed by Lukas Lerager, and VAR again ruled in United’s favor, an incredible, come-from-behind victory materialized.
Bruno Fernandes’ penalty kick put United ahead 3-2, giving the visitors just over 20 minutes to hold on and win the game. This would be a significant win and a much-needed turning point in what is rapidly turning into a disastrous season.
But we’re talking about Manchester United here. Not the legendary, multiple Champions League-winning squad of the past, but the contemporary iteration that has come to represent chaos, weakness, and how not to perform at any level, let alone the greatest level.