The blows began raining down on Manchester United long before Wilfried Zaha completed a thoroughly miserable start to the season at Old Trafford.
First, the news just before kick-off that Liverpool had signed Diogo Jota 24 hours after buying Thiago Alcantara.
Manchester United suffered a 3-1 opening day defeat at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday
The comparisons were not favourable to United and nowhere more so than on the pitch where they were exposed and dispatched by a sharper, better Crystal Palace team.
It was United’s heaviest opening-game defeat since losing 3-1 at Aston Villa a quarter of a century ago.
The Alan Hansen-induced pessimism surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson’s kids proved unfounded then and now it falls on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to lift the mood of negativity hanging over the club.
A big signing is needed to raise spirits and keep pace with the rest. Other clubs have kicked on and United must do the same or risk being left behind.
In that respect, they are lucky to have a club man like Solskjaer in charge. Other managers – notably a former incumbent from Portugal – would have been raising hell by now.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must lift the negative mood currently surrounding Old Trafford
It remains to be seen if United have the money or powers of persuasion to prise Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund before the transfer deadline, but the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January transformed the club last season and it feels as though something similar is needed now.
‘We have a very good group but I think we need more players to strengthen the squad,’ said defender Luke Shaw.
‘When you look around at how other teams are strengthening their teams, we must do it to keep up. It’s the start of a new season, we should have been fresh. Possibly everything went wrong. A lot of things were said after the game and we need to put it to bed.’
Shaw shared Solskjaer’s view that having the whole squad back together for only a week had contributed to United’s lethargy. But how under-cooked can a team be after the shortest off-season in living memory?
Luke Shaw said he believes United need more signings to strengthen their current squad
A month and three days between the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla and Saturday’s debacle. The truth is that cracks were beginning to show during what Solskjaer described as a ‘bitter end’ to last season. Not only the defeats by Sevilla and Chelsea, in the FA Cup semi-final, but the home draws with Southampton and West Ham that almost cost them a top-four place.
United, who also needed extra time to beat Copenhagen in Europe, went behind in all three of their final league games at Old Trafford.
Then there were the off-the-field distractions surrounding captain Harry Maguire’s incarceration in Mykonos and Mason Greenwood’s indiscretions in Reykjavik during the break. The mood of optimism has largely evaporated in the two months since United outclassed Palace at Selhurst Park in July.
The club have stumbled into their delayed start to the season and Roy Hodgson’s side were licking their lips.
‘United didn’t play last week and we knew we had the mental advantage,’ said Andros Townsend.
United were not helped by off-the-field distractions in the build-up to their opening game
‘If we started fast, we might catch them cold. We did exactly that. If anything, we could have won it by even more.’
There were less than seven minutes gone when Townsend capitalised on awful defending to score. Victor Lindelof was particularly poor all game.
The Swede was very unfortunate, however, that VAR alerted ref Martin Atkinson to the most dubious of handball offences. So too David de Gea whose penalty save from Jordan Ayew counted for nothing as he was a couple of inches off his line and Zaha converted the retake.
The former United forward then turned Lindelof to score his third goal in two games and give Palace back-to-back wins at the start of a top-flight season for the first time.
The only crumb of comfort for United was a debut goal for Donny van de Beek but that wasn’t nearly enough for the Dutchman. ‘I’m disappointed that we lost 3-1. I think it’s really bad,’ he said.
Donny van de Beek cost the club £40million and more needs to be spent in the coming weeks
United paid £40million for Van de Beek and more needs to be spent in the remaining two weeks of the window.
A right-sided attacker remains the priority after the failure to deliver on Sancho and Bale, and talks are ongoing with FC Porto over left back Alex Telles after United missed out on Reguilon.
Most of all, though, United need a lift. Hope. Evidence that they can compete at the top and not drift off the pace again. Here at an empty Old Trafford on Saturday, it was in short supply.