Ajax fans sang their matchly chorus of Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, but it could be anything but for Manchester United.
The Dutch club’s hosts again showcased staggering complacency to let another lead slip in a European home match, offering a second half display that was as unadventurous as it was deserving of the 2-1 defeat.
Jonny Evans, brought on as a substitute to seal United’s leaky defence, was booked for time-wasting shortly after Toby Alderweireld gave Ajax the lead in the 88th minute. Such humiliation encapsulated the dismal display with even the fourth official taking pity on United by revealing just two minutes of stoppage time.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s first trophy in 1990, United have endured just four trophyless seasons but it could easily be extended to five this campaign. Bereft of injured captain Nemanja Vidic, their defending at set-pieces has nosedived and the lack of a leader has led to a drastic loss of organisation to such an extent that the supposedly dodgy David de Gea spared the Reds’ blushes again.
Ferguson afterwards accepted the blame for fielding a young back five consisting of De Gea, the Da Silva twins, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, but that glossed over the real issue.
He is yet to issue a mea culpa for not addressing a midfield that is still in need of treatment from Roy Keane’s last days at Old Trafford. Last night Tom Cleverley was joined by the panicky Park Ji-Sung as the middle spine of a 4-4-1-1 formation, and the Amsterdam club regularly overran them.
It was reminiscent of how effortlessly Basle breached United in the Champions League group stage match in October. That night United led 2-0 and found themselves 3-2 down before Ashley Young nodded in a last-gasp equaliser.
Young was another problem, as was the team’s winger on the opposite flank, Nani. Rarely an asset in attack, they were asses in defence as the Da Silva siblings lacked any protection ahead of them. Antonio Valencia, another absentee through injury, cannot come back soon enough.
There were a number of arrests last night as Ajax's fervent fans travelled in numbers:
Dimitar Berbatov started the game effervescently, but as United’s best ball-retainer was short of colleagues who matched his competence and he quickly got frustrated. Javier Hernandez, despite his superbly taken goal, remains erratic in possession.
Ferguson’s introduction of Evans and Paul Scholes briefly calmed proceedings, as Jones was bumped into midfield having stressed again that centre-back is the last position he should be deployed. Stuart Pearce, sat one seat away from Harry Redknapp, played Jones and Smalling together at the Under-21 European Championship last summer, but repeating that consistency would be an open invitation to Dutch carnage next week.
Judging by some of the performances last night, “Exodus” may be the more appropriate Marley music for the Old Trafford tannoy.