MANCHESTER – There was a pick of moments that confirmed Manchester United’s humiliation against Liverpool.
Maybe it came with Mohamed Salah completing his hat trick by the 50th minute. Or in the celebrations as Liverpool defender Andy Robertson was heard repeatedly shouting “Keep going” at his teammates when they were already 5-0 up showing no mercy.
Or there was the sight of Alex Ferguson shaking his head, sighing in the Old Trafford directors’ box at seeing the shambles unfolding in the team he once led to so much glory. Close by was his one-time Liverpool managerial adversary, Kenny Dalglish, beaming in delight.
Fewer United fans were there to witness the final embers of the embarrassment unfolding on Sunday, having already booed the players off at halftime.
Once Paul Pogba — United’s only change when trailing 4-0 at halftime for the first time in a Premier League match — was sent off for a lunging tackle with 30 minutes remaining, the home fans started streaming away. Hundreds could be seen already outside of the stadium, heading home to leave a scene of an epic humbling.
Inside all the singing was coming from the visiting Liverpool section, mostly to taunt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
“Ole’s at the wheel,” they sang, mockingly adopting the lauding of the manager adopted by United after being used by former player Rio Ferdinand.
“Ole, give us a wave,” they urged.
How much longer after this 5-0 rout until United waves goodbye to a manager who has benefited from more than $500 million in player spending in three years but looks far from delivering a first Premier League trophy since the retirement of Ferguson in 2013 after collecting his 13th? Even Liverpool has won the title more recently, in 2020, to end a 30-year drought.
Solskjaer was the biggest gamble by the owning Glazer family of the post-Ferguson appointments — David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho — given his lack of experience coaching an elite club, gaining this job based on his status as a title-winning player under the Scot.
There’s only so much that nostalgia can shield you from the brutal assessments at a club without a trophy since Mourinho won the Europa League in 2017.
“We know we are rock bottom," Solskjaer said. “It can't feel any worse than this.”
Not even the return of Cristiano Ronaldo from the Ferguson glory years has engineered a resurgence. Late comebacks have masked the cracks, like Ronaldo grabbing a late winner against Atalanta in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Ronaldo did put the ball in the net against Liverpool, only for VAR to scrub it out for offside. The 36-year-old returning hero was also fortunate not to be dismissed for petulance, twice kicking the ball into the midriff of Curtis Jones when the whistle had blown and the Liverpool midfielder was on the turf.
“The whole performance was not good enough," Solskjaer said. “I have come too far, we have come too far as a group. We are too close to give up now."
Given the further investment in the squad over the last year, this rout feels even more crushing for Solskjaer than the 6-1 implosion against Tottenham here last October.
United’s defense was completely run ragged against Liverpool, conceding after five minutes. It was a scene of abject failings that Solskjaer has consistently provided little evidence he can rectify.
Salah had just received the pass from Roberto Firmino. To his left was Robertson. To his right, Naby Keita. Only Luke Shaw was in front of them as the last line of United resistance. The ball was put through by Salah to Keita who slotted past David De Gea.
It was Diogo Jota who slid in to stab the ball over the line in the 13th from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross after a muddle between Harry Maguire and Shaw.
The first of Salah’s goals -- allowing the striker to score in a 10th successive Liverpool game -- came after his shot was initially blocked by Maguire. The loose ball fell to Keita who cut it back for Salah to strike high into the net.
And just before the halftime whistle blew, Salah was able to send United in at the break on the receiving end of another slice of misery after sidefooting in from Jota’s pass.
Whatever Solskjaer said at the break didn’t change anything. Five minutes into the second half, Jordan Henderson sliced through the defense with a pass from the halfway line that Salah ran onto before clipping past De Gea.
The only surprise was that United didn’t concede again, even after Pogba's red-card lunge on Keita after 15 minutes on the field. The hosts had suffered enough. Nine games into the season, the record 20-time English champions are already seven points behind Liverpool in second place with Chelsea a further point away in the lead.
It’s not like United hasn’t been embarrassed like this before Solskjaer. It’s almost 10 years to the day since Manchester City won 6-1 at Old Trafford. But Ferguson’s side had won the title a few months earlier. And Liverpool is deemed a greater rival than United's neighbor.
What could save Solskjaer is the fans are yet to turn on him, despite collecting one point from the last four league games.
“We apologize to the fans," Maguire said. “It’s nowhere near good enough.”
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