Manchester United’s Worst Ever Premier League Starts

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Manchester United have just had their worst start (in terms of the number of defeats) to a Premier League campaign after losing four of their first seven games of the 2023/24 EPL season. To be fair to Erik ten Hag and his men, they did win the other three games. United are the most successful side in the Premier League era (with 13 EPL titles to their name, compared to seven for Man City) so a start like that is just not acceptable to the fans. After all, they lost four or fewer games over the whole season in each of 1993/94, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2008/09 and 2010/11, and – unsurprisingly – won the title in each of those campaigns.

The Red Devils have achieved so much success since the inaugural EPL campaign of 1992/93, but they haven’t always exactly flown out of the blocks. Here we’ll take a look at the worst starts Man United have had to Premier League campaigns, beginning with the worst of them all, 2023/24. Before that, let’s summarise United’s most disappointing starts based on their first seven matches.

Season
Manager
Played
Won
Drawn
Lost
Points
2023/24
Erik ten Hag
7
3
0
4
9
2020/21
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
7
3
1
3
10
2019/20
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
7
2
3
2
9
2018/19
Jose Mourinho
7
3
1
3
10
2014/15
Louis van Gaal
7
3
2
2
11
2013/14
David Moyes
7
3
1
3
10
2002/03
Sir Alex Ferguson
7
3
2
2
11

As you can see, only once before have Man United failed to reach double figures of points after seven games, but some would argue their start in 2019/20 wasn’t quite as bad as they only lost two games (though they only won two as well).

It’s notable that when Alex Ferguson was in charge, the Red Devils fell short of 12 points from their first seven games just once (in 2002/03)… but they went on to win the league that season anyway. Since the legendary manager left the club, these previously abysmal starts have become all too common. Anyway, let’s take a look at each of the abovementioned seasons in a little more detail and find out who caused United’s early slips.

2023/24 – 9 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Wolves
Home
1-0 Win
2
Tottenham Hotspur
Away
2-0 Loss
3
Nottingham Forest
Home
3-2 Win
4
Arsenal
Away
3-1 Loss
5
Brighton
Home
3-1 Loss
6
Burnley
Away
1-0 Win
7
Crystal Palace
Home
1-0 Loss

Things haven’t gone well for Erik ten Hag and his team in the 2022/23 season. A narrow win in the opener against Wolves gave fans hope for the year ahead, but this was soon dashed when Spurs outplayed the Red Devils to secure a relatively comfortable 2-0 triumph. United then made hard work of things against newly promoted Forest before losing 3-1 to both Arsenal and Brighton. There followed another narrow victory against a side United should have been beating easily (Burnley) but then came the dismal home defeat by Crystal Palace. A return of nine points is their joint-worst ever in a Premier League season and United haven’t suffered four defeats in their opening seven league matches since 1989/90! What’s more, they have also lost both of their opening two games in the Champions League.

2020/21 – 10 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Crystal Palace
Home
3-1 Loss
2
Brighton
Away
3-2 Win
3
Tottenham Hotspur
Home
6-1 Loss
4
Newcastle United
Away
4-1 Win
5
Chelsea
Home
0-0 Draw
6
Arsenal
Home
1-0 Loss
7
Everton
Away
3-1 Win

Ole Gunnar Solskjær was in the dugout for this season. The poor start to the campaign didn’t help his cause, and it was that pesky team Crystal Palace who kicked off United’s woes by having the temerity to beat them… at Old Trafford. United’s home form was woeful in the early stage of the season and they got hammered 6-1 by Spurs in their next one at the “Theatre of Dreams” (or should that be nightmares?!).

United won their three away matches in their opening seven games, but a dour 0-0 draw against Chelsea and a 1-0 home defeat against Arsenal left the club languishing in 15th position in the table. They didn’t get their first league win on home soil until 21st November (against West Brom) – but things improved in the second half of the season and United finished as runners-up to Man City.

2019/20 – 9 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Chelsea
Home
4-0 Win
2
Wolves
Away
1-1 Draw
3
Crystal Palace
Home
2-1 Loss
4
Southampton
Away
1-1 Draw
5
Leicester City
Home
1-0 Win
6
West Ham United
Away
2-0 Loss
7
Arsenal
Home
1-1 Draw

This was the joint-worst start for United in terms of the number of points accumulated in their first seven matches, but that didn’t look likely when they hammered Chelsea 4-0 in the opening game. A misfiring draw against Wolves was followed by a home defeat to – you’ve guessed it – Crystal Palace. An away draw with the Saints was followed by victory over Leicester, but defeat at West Ham sent United into a tailspin that saw them fall to 14th in the table. They eventually recovered to finish the campaign in third position, earning Solskjær another bite of the cherry.

2018/19 – 10 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Leicester City
Home
2-1 Win
2
Brighton
Away
3-2 Loss
3
Tottenham Hotspur
Home
3-0 Loss
4
Burnley
Away
2-0 Win
5
Watford
Away
2-1 Win
6
Wolves
Home
1-1 Draw
7
West Ham United
Away
3-1 Loss

The Special One Jose Mourinho was the United boss for the start of this campaign but he only lasted until December after a very poor start. Once again, things began brightly enough with an opening-day victory (over Leicester). But defeats to Brighton away and Spurs at home set the alarm bells ringing in the Old Trafford stands. Two away wins against relatively weak sides steadied the ship, but a home draw against Wolves wasn’t cause for celebration and things got worse when they went down 3-1 at West Ham. Mourinho was his usual stubborn self and didn’t change much. But then defeat to rivals Liverpool in December was the nail in the coffin for Mourinho’s Manchester United career.

2014/15 – 11 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Swansea City
Home
2-1 Loss
2
Sunderland
Away
1-1 Draw
3
Burnley
Away
0-0 Draw
4
QPR
Home
4-0 Win
5
Leicester City
Away
5-3 Loss
6
West Ham United
Home
2-1 Win
7
Everton
Home
2-1 Win

Louis van Gaal was in charge for this season and as the first United coach from Netherlands (or indeed anywhere outside of the UK and Ireland), he paved the way for Erik ten Hag. Things didn’t start well for Van Gaal – an opening-day defeat at home to Swansea City. Two draws followed against sides United would be expected to beat, before their first win of the season came in mid-September (4-0 against QPR). An exciting but frustrating 5-3 defeat at Leicester followed before Van Gaal’s men earned back-to-back 2-1 home victories over West Ham and Everton.

Things picked up from there, at least to an extent, but United only finished in fourth position and completed a rare season without picking up a single piece of silverware (the first since 2004/05).

2013/14 – 10 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
Swansea City
Away
4-1 Win
2
Chelsea
Home
0-0 Draw
3
Liverpool
Away
1-0 Loss
4
Crystal Palace
Home
2-0 Win
5
Manchester City
Away
4-1 Loss
6
West Brom
Home
2-1 Loss
7
Sunderland
Away
2-1 Win

This was the first season after the retirement of the great Sir Alex Ferguson, and new boss David Moyes had mighty big boots to fill. Unfortunately for Moyes, things didn’t go well. Things could have been so different if the Red Devils had been able to build on their opening-day victory over Swansea. But Moyes’ first home league match ended in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea, which hardly excited the faithful. But then losing to rival Liverpool in the next match certainly had plenty of people (a little unfairly) questioning the appointment of the former Everton boss. To be fair he did lead United to one piece of silverware: the Community Shield!

Things weren’t helped when United lost their next away match… 4-1 to local rivals Man City. And then the Red Devils were beaten on home soil by West Brom, the first time the Baggies had won there since 1978! An away win at Sunderland followed, but 10 points after seven matches is never going to get fans on your side, especially if you’re following one of the legends of the game. Moyes lasted in the job until April 2014, getting the boot as soon as a top-four finish became mathematically impossible.

2002/03 – 11 points

Game
Opponent
Home/Away
Result
1
West Brom
Home
1-0 Win
2
Chelsea
Away
2-2 Draw
3
Middlesbrough
Home
1-0 Win
4
Sunderland
Away
1-1 Draw
5
Bolton
Home
1-0 Loss
6
Leeds United
Away
1-0 Loss
7
Tottenham Hotspur
Home
1-0 Win

Finally, to show that Alex Ferguson wasn’t 100% successful 100% of the time, United had an awful start to the 2002/03 (admittedly by the standards set at the club under Ferguson’s tenure). Okay, winning two and drawing two of your first four matches is never a disaster. But following that with 1-0 defeats to Bolton at home and Leeds away was not viewed exactly favourably by Red Devils fans. Of course, Ferguson being Ferguson, he shrugged off the poor start and led his side to the league title! Erik ten Hag will certainly be hoping he can pull off a similar recovery in 2023/24!

Author: Raymond Sanchez