Erik ten Hag’s team lost a lot of points in the end.

This sea­son is turn­ing out to be super tur­bu­lent for Man­ches­ter Unit­ed. On the one hand, 6th place in the Pre­mier League with no real chance to rise high­er and elim­i­na­tion from the Cham­pi­ons League after the group stage. On the oth­er hand, reach­ing the FA Cup final and a chance to take some kind of tro­phy for the sec­ond year in a row (if you man­age to win, then Erik ten Hag will equal Jose Mour­in­ho in the num­ber of titles with Man­ches­ter Unit­ed — no one else has won since the depar­ture of Sir Alex Fer­gu­son), as well as, for exam­ple, the sharp rise in the careers of 19-year-old Ale­jan­dro Gar­na­cho and Kob­by Mainu (the lat­ter will prob­a­bly go to the 2024 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship as part of the Eng­land team). Plus big changes in the club’s man­age­ment — now, let us remind you, 25% of the shares belong to the rich­est man in Great Britain, Jim Rat­cliffe.

Ten Hag final­ly went to Man­ches­ter Unit­ed. Eric does­n’t admit mis­takes and com­plains con­stant­ly

But, among oth­er things, the sea­son was marked by anoth­er extreme­ly inter­est­ing and, per­haps, impor­tant sto­ry. This can even be called a break in tra­di­tion. Or rather, even to some extent a myth. We are talk­ing about the so-called famous Fer­gie Time, which seems to no longer exist. Or rather, it exists, but in the oppo­site dimen­sion — a sort of anti-Fer­gie time or Fer­gie time in reverse. Last week­end in the match with Burn­ley (1:1) we saw anoth­er con­fir­ma­tion of this. And, per­haps, this is a very good illus­tra­tion of the iden­ti­ty cri­sis that Man­ches­ter Unit­ed is cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing and which the club can­not over­come in any way (many oth­er prob­lems large­ly stem from this).

25 years ago, Unit­ed won that same Cham­pi­ons League final against Bay­ern, when 0:1 first turned into 1:1 in the 90th minute, and then into 2:1 in stop­page time. The match instant­ly gained cult sta­tus, becom­ing the main exam­ple of the fact that in foot­ball every­thing can turn upside down in a mat­ter of moments. A few years ago I rewatched that game, and the first 89 min­utes are a com­plete­ly ordi­nary and even some­what bor­ing end­ing. One team plays notice­ably bet­ter and deserved­ly leads the score, but does not fin­ish off the oppo­nent. And then that end­ing hap­pens. “The dudes lie down, but the greats tri­umph,” is the leg­endary phrase of Vladimir Maslachenko, who com­ment­ed on that match, said after the final whis­tle. And the word “dudes” best char­ac­ter­izes that Bay­ern, which should have eas­i­ly won that game, and with it the Cham­pi­ons Cup.

Man­ches­ter Unit­ed cel­e­brates their vic­to­ry over Bay­ern Munich in the 1999 Cham­pi­ons League final.
Pho­to by Glob­al Look Press

But the details have long since fad­ed from mem­o­ry. All that remains is the sto­ry about the last min­utes, which has been liv­ing its own, inde­pen­dent life for many years.

It was then that the leg­end of Fer­gie Time was born — Man­ches­ter United’s abil­i­ty to put pres­sure on the oppo­nent in the end and achieve vic­to­ries in the last min­utes of match­es. Fans and spec­ta­tors have always believed that noth­ing has been decid­ed and that every­thing is still pos­si­ble. Like then, in 1999, in Barcelona.

In fact, Unit­ed did win quite a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of match­es in the clos­ing min­utes. After all, a tra­di­tion must be reg­u­lar­ly fed with fresh sto­ries and exam­ples, oth­er­wise it will quick­ly die out.

“If you play for our club, this risk is always present. But the val­ue is that if you score in stop­page time, the atmos­phere in the dress­ing room after such match­es is sim­ply incred­i­ble, it’s pure elec­tric­i­ty,” Fer­gu­son said after leav­ing Man­ches­ter Unit­ed.

Snarky phras­es, thrown piz­za and many titles. The sto­ry of the great con­fronta­tion between Fer­gu­son and Wenger

“Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, Unit­ed were supe­ri­or in the last 10 min­utes. Fer­gu­son had the abil­i­ty to take risks and make plays. He want­ed play­ers on the pitch who could score goals, he had an intu­ition about when to take risks,” Tony Strad­wick, who worked as Man­ches­ter United’s direc­tor of research, explained to The Ath­let­ic.

But this sea­son, as already men­tioned, every­thing is hap­pen­ing exact­ly the oppo­site. Unit­ed have already con­ced­ed eight goals in stop­page time — nev­er before so many. Before that, the max­i­mum was four goals con­ced­ed in the 2019/20 and 2021/22 sea­sons. For com­par­i­son, under Fer­gu­son in the Pre­mier League era, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed nev­er con­ced­ed more than three goals in a sea­son in stop­page time. It’s fun­ny that so much hap­pened in the 1999/2000 cham­pi­onship, that is, imme­di­ate­ly after the tre­ble and that final with Bay­ern. In six sea­sons under Fer­gie, Unit­ed did not con­cede at all after the 90th minute, in sev­en — only one goal. Where­as after his depar­ture, in four sea­sons there were three goals, in two there were four goals con­ced­ed, and in gen­er­al it was not pos­si­ble to avoid own goals in stop­page time.

That is, the trend is obvi­ous, but even against this back­ground, eight goals this sea­son is a real night­mare and a break in all tra­di­tions.

Pho­to by Reuters

It is clear that every­thing depends on the con­text and not all of these goals have a direct impact on the result. In the end, the con­di­tion­al 3:0 can turn into 3:1, or, in a neg­a­tive sce­nario, 0:1 becomes 0:2. But in the case of Man­ches­ter Unit­ed this sea­son, there was only one such episode: in the match with Man­ches­ter City, Erling Haa­land scored in the 90+1st minute — the score became 3:1 in favor of City. There is also a bor­der­line sto­ry from the game with Wolver­hamp­ton: Man­ches­ter Unit­ed was lead­ing 3:1, allowed the oppo­nent to score in the 85th and 90+5th min­utes, but in the 90+7th min­utes Main still scored the win­ner — 4:3 .

The remain­ing six goals con­ced­ed in stop­page time cost Man­ches­ter Unit­ed a loss of points. So, we con­sid­er:

1) match with Arse­nal, 90+6th and 90+11th min­utes, 1:1 turns into 1:3;
2) match with Ful­ham, 90+17th minute, 1:1 turns into 1:2 (although Man­ches­ter Unit­ed had equal­ized the score in the 89th);
3) match with Brent­ford, 90+9th minute, 1:0 turns into 1:1 (although Man­ches­ter Unit­ed itself scored in the 90+6th minute);
4) match with Chelsea, 90+10th and 90+11th min­utes, 3:2 turns into 3:4.

On this day, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed became great. The most shock­ing out­come of the Cham­pi­ons League

This is only in the Pre­mier League, but there was also the recent FA Cup semi-final with Coven­try, when Man­ches­ter Unit­ed led 3:0, but allowed the under­dog to lev­el the score. More­over, Coven­try scored the third goal in the 90+5th minute, and then scored the fourth — but it was can­celed after a tip from VAR. It’s good that we man­aged to win in the penal­ty shootout. Or the last match with Burn­ley in the Pre­mier League — the oppo­nent equal­ized the score in the 87th minute (1:1). And you can the­o­rize where Man­ches­ter Unit­ed would be in the table now if it weren’t for those goals in the end.

But it is wrong to say that Unit­ed only con­cede in the last min­utes. The match with Wolves was men­tioned a lit­tle high­er. There was also an epic vic­to­ry over Brent­ford with Scott McTom­i­nay’s brace in the 90+3 and 90+7 min­utes (2:1). There was an away match with Ful­ham with a goal from Bruno Fer­nan­des in the 90+1st minute (1:0). There was an away match with Aston Vil­la, when McTom­i­nay scored in the 86th minute (2:1). There was a cup vic­to­ry over Not­ting­ham For­est when Casemiro scored in the 89th (1:0). Final­ly, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed twice in this cham­pi­onship turned 0:2 into 3:2 — in games with the same Not­ting­ham and Vil­la, even though there were no goals in the last min­utes.

This, of course, makes the over­all pic­ture more bal­anced and not so one-sided. But it doesn’t change the fact that that leg­endary Fer­gie time seems to no longer exist — and Man­ches­ter Unit­ed fans need to be afraid of injury time, and not hope for it.