Erik Ten Hag showed himself to be the solid manager Manchester United needed when he was appointed to take charge at the end of a dismal 2022-23 season. But the former Ajax boss is in danger of seeing the football side of his job collapse at Old Trafford.
The 53-year-old said on Friday that he inherited a “not a good culture” when he arrived at the club 16 months ago, and was bold and decisive in his attempt to deal with malaise within the squad. From forcing players to run 8 miles on the training ground as punishment for running 8 miles fewer than Brentford in a 4-0 defeat in August 2022, to publicly criticizing Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho for failing to meet his standards on and off the pitch, Ten Hag has practiced His authority. Despite the disciplinary issues he faced within the squad that required a major overhaul – as ESPN reported last month, he has transferred nearly 20 players since taking charge – Ten Hag guided United to third place and reached two grand finals. Last season, he won the Carabao Cup.
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But all is not well at Old Trafford. The biggest and most successful club in the Premier League (historically, at least) is now on the brink of another crisis. With back-to-back matches against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Burnley in the Premier League this week, things could get worse before they start getting better. United’s history since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 shows a worrying trend of managers becoming disoriented after an impressive first season and then failing to turn things around. Ten Hag isn’t there yet, but storm clouds are gathering and results – the measure by which all managers are judged – are deteriorating.
Since ending Manchester United’s six-year trophy drought by winning the Carabao Cup Final against Newcastle United on February 26, Ten Hag’s side have suffered a worrying decline in form and results. Until the 2-0 win over Eddie Howe’s side at Wembley, Ten Hag United had won 72.5% of their matches in all competitions. Since that day, United’s winning percentage has fallen to 51.9%, and their long run of form has now seen them make the club’s worst start to a season since 1989-90 by losing three of their first five games of the campaign. Away from home, United have picked up just one point from a possible 27 games in matches against top-10 opponents and have managed just three wins from their last 10 away games at Old Trafford in all competitions.
Tactically, Ten Hag has also struggled to prove that he can be a positive game changer. During the team’s 7-0 defeat to Liverpool in March, he played centre-forward Foote Weghorst as a No. 10, Rashford as a lone striker and placed Bruno Fernandes on the left, failing to target the defensive weaknesses of Liverpool’s right-back Trent Alexander. -Arnold. He was also outclassed by Pep Guardiola during the FA Cup final defeat to Manchester City, while Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford came after Seagulls boss Roberto De Zerbe took less than 20 minutes to nullify Ten Hag’s tactical ruse. Playing in the diamond formation in the midfield.
Ten Hag has a lot of credit in the bank from last season. United’s management appointed him with the full expectation that it would take time to make the team truly competitive again, and Ten Hag was arguably over-matched in his first season. But so did Jose Mourinho when he won the Carabao Cup and Europa League in his first season. The former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach was unable to continue before losing his job four months into his third term after his relationship with his bosses at Old Trafford and the club’s players collapsed.
The failure to get the signings he wanted, coupled with United’s reluctance and/or inability to let go of players it did not want – Anthony Martial being the most prominent example – fostered a sense of injustice towards Mourinho which hastened his downfall. Ten Hag has done better than Mourinho when it comes to achieving his goals, but that success in getting who he wants could work against him if results continue to remain consistent.
Will midfielder Mason Mount and goalkeeper Andre Onana really make United a better team? Is centre-forward Rasmus Hoglund a better long-term bet than Harry Kane? Was Ten Hag right to put pressure on midfielder Sofiane Amrabat in the final days of the transfer window? The answers to these questions will come in due course, but it’s fair to say that Ten Hag misjudged Weghorst’s ability to make a difference after arriving on loan from Burnley in January, and that Anthony, who is on holiday, has done little to look the part. It feels like anything but an expensive mistake since Ten Hag made his £85m signing a priority at the start of last season.
While results will always determine a manager’s fate, his tactical acumen and ability to identify a player are important factors that can boost support from the board and dressing room. We’re still waiting for Teen Hag’s “Eureka”! However, in terms of the transformative signing or tactical switch to win the match.
By instilling discipline and imposing strict standards on his players, Ten Hag delivers on one key element of his job description, but that is not enough for a club of United’s stature. What matters most are results and style, and Ten Hag fails in both areas.
Injuries are not helping, and the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of the club’s owners, the Glazers, is another unwanted distraction. But what Ten Hag needs more than anything else now is a convincing performance and victory. Being a strong man will not be enough to relieve the pressure.