COMMENT: Is this it? Is this what lays in wait for Manchester United this season? A sullen, downcast manager. A half-empty stadium. And fans hanging their hopes on kids of 17 and 18 years of age?
Okay, okay, there's circumstances to explain this. Context. But when that lot up the road are celebrating a £175m summer spend. A world record fee for a goalkeeper. Two midfielders rated better than anything they had. And a manager actually talking about 'going for it' this new season, even the most optimistic United fan must be feeling a little uneasy.
In the past, the contrast between Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, and Jose Mourinho has been exaggerated. There's an anti-Mourinho bias in the media. Pundits burned by the United manager actively barrack for his failure.
But this preseason. Indeed, this week. The difference between the two men. Even the two clubs. Is like night and day. Klopp is bouncing. Liverpool is bouncing. Naby Keita is already flying in preseason. Fabinho is talking up their title chances. And Alisson Becker chose Anfield over Real Madrid for the next stage in his career. Three players to improve on a team good enough to reach the Champions League final. Three players signed and sealed from Klopp's A-list. A vaunted trio to transform Liverpool into genuine title contenders.
But back at Old Trafford, Mourinho is "worried, very worried", he concedes "everything is bad, very bad". That context mentioned can be applied, with Mourinho overseeing a tour squad in the US shorn of his World Cup players - and his two summer signings. Well, we say two, but in the world of Klopp and Liverpool, it's barely one-and-a-half.
By Mourinho's own admission, Diogo Dalot arrives from Porto as 'one for the future'. Oh, and he's also been signed carrying a knee injury. So no full preseason then for the fullback. Indeed, there no expectation of him kicking a ball in anger until September.
As for Fred, the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder, the prospects are only marginally better. The Brazilian made Tite's World Cup squad but didn't play - apparently - due to an ankle injury. A claim which was denied by the Selecao's team physio last week. That Mourinho granted Fred an extra two weeks off, despite him not seeing any action in Russia, only adds to the murkiness of it all.
“I'm not going to say somebody is coming or nobody is coming," was all Mourinho could offer on signings before their 1-1 draw with Club America last week. "I really don't know."
So no Keita to light the place up. No Alisson to shake the boardrooms across Europe. Nothing. Nowt.
The place is meandering. United, in contrast to Liverpool, appears directionless. Uninspired. Even Mourinho's announcement of Antonio Valencia as new club captain - done on foreign soil - was a tepid, wishy-washy affair.
"The captain was Valencia last season. I think he is going to be the captain," shrugged the manager. "And when he doesn't play, we have to make decisions - it depends who is on the pitch. If [Chris] Smalling is, or if Ashley Young is, or if [Ander] Herrera is, or if [Juan] Mata is, if they are on the pitch, they are an option."
It's that sense of indecisiveness which enveloped their opening game of preseason against Club America. Manchester United. The world's richest, most popular club. Well, they could barely fill half the stadium in Arizona. Where once the name was all that was needed to get the turnstiles spinning, those days - on US shores at least - are long gone. Even those in charge of merchandise caught the gloom, printing misspelled 'Lakaku'shirts for the local online store.
Ed Woodward, the club's vice-chairman exec, is now in the 'States. And there's hope that getting in the same room as his manager will help push transfer plans along. But on first flush, this is a preseason to forget. This isn't one to set out your stall. To make bold, decisive decisions. To set United up for a title challenge. That - for this summer so far - is the stuff of Klopp, FSG and Liverpool.
Woodward and Mourinho need a win. A big, big win in the market. The place is directionless. It has the hallmarks of a managed decline. If Mourinho can't provide the inspiration, then Woodward needs to buy it.
On current showing, United cannot expect anything from the new season looking as they do today.