After overseeing Manchester United’s worst start to a season for 61 years, Erik Ten Hag’s future reportedly resides on ‘thin ice’, in a story broken by The Times this week. 

News outlets are openly speculating as to who his successor might be, while the Dutchman’s press conferences amount to half-hour interrogations regarding his competency. 

Less than 18 months into a role that has been equated by some to a poisoned chalice, it very much feels like the end-game for the former Ajax coach. The bitter end.

We’re been here before of course, in this departure lounge. Several times over in fact this past decade. We know how to work the coffee machine. We are well-acquainted with the Green Mile stare of the latest United manager waiting for the axe to fall.

We are acutely aware of how the next few days, and the next few weeks play out and while the more sympathetic among us avert our eyes, pretending there is something fascinating on our shoes, rival fans revel in every detail and every defeat.  

For the sixth time since 2013, when Sir Alex Ferguson hung up his overcoat, a failed and broken United boss is set to be jettisoned. 

It is an outcome that at this juncture feels inevitable, for all that United have refuted the Times story, and for all that the currently cash-strapped club will struggle to afford Ten Hag’s costly pay-off.

Having lost exactly half of their league games going into tomorrow’s clash at Fulham, the Reds presently have their worst goal difference since 1972 and by every metric are experiencing their worst run of results since 1931. 

They’ve been beaten by Brighton, Crystal Palace, Galatasaray and Newcastle at home across all comps, and outclassed by Spurs and Arsenal away. Last week, their neighbours City once again painfully illustrated the vast gulf in coherency and distinction that exists between the sides. 

Yet oddly, it is not the plethora of losses that most starkly shines a light on their shortcomings in Ten Hag’s second season in charge.

The fortunate manner in which they have papered over the cracks with a handful of victories is especially damning, starting with a bizarre VAR call in their favour on the opening day against Wolves after being outplayed throughout. 

A questionable sending off and a highly questionable penalty at home to Nottingham Forest helped to facilitate a comeback from two goals down. Then there was their late, late show against Brentford, followed by Copenhagen missing a last gasp spot-kick in the Champions League.

When your good days are actually bad days averted, you know something is extremely amiss.

All of which has left United seriously trailing in the Premier League top four odds. Indeed, an Opta ‘supercomputer’ estimates they have just a 2.5% chance of making the Champions League places come May.

Will Ten Hag still be at the helm by then? The football betting says no. Our instincts say no. Unless there is a transformative, dramatic reversal in fortunes – and quickly – another new era for the under-performing giants awaits. 

For balance, it should be pointed out that the under-fire gaffer actually has the best win percentage of any United manager since Ferguson, while a respectable third-place finish and a League Cup success last term should count as credit in the bank.

It has hardly helped Ten Hag’s cause either the off-field problems persistently blighting the club, with a mish-mash of a footballing structure above him and detested owners unwilling to sell up, leading to protests regularly occurring on matchdays. 

But when the team is performing so badly then for sure the buck has to stop with him.  

Having consigned Raphael Varane to the bench, it has been the manager’s prerogative to go with a Leicester City tribute act of Harry Maguire and 35-year-old Jonny Evans at the back, their subsequent struggles merely a continuation of systemic issues in defence. 

In an ill-balanced midfield, Casemiro’s legs have gone while Mason Mount – bought at great expense over the summer – has been largely ineffective, due to inhabiting one of the very few positions within the squad where United were already well-stocked. 

Up front meanwhile, Rashford, Hojlund, Antony, Martial and Garnacho have played a combined 2212 minutes of Premier League football going into the Fulham game. They have scored precisely one goal between them. 

Given the steep cost of Hojlund and Antony and the manner in which they are failing to light up Old Trafford, poor recruitment is another stick to beat the Dutchman with, but in all honesty we’re way past that point now anyway.

For Manchester United are deeply entrenched in crisis and Ten Hag’s job is on the line. Those are the only truths that matter ahead of a crucial and defining week. 

Beyond that, it’s just a question of time.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.