What we expect from Erik ten Hag now he’s staying – opinion

For weeks now, speculation has been mounting over the future of Erik ten Hag, poor league performance fuelled talk of him being given the boot, but winning the FA Cup in spectacular fashion against Manchester City muddied the water and even turned opinion on many fans. This also seemed to take effect on INEOS who had reportedly spent the two weeks Ten Hag was on holiday to sound out replacements, only to announce the Dutchman was the one to take the club forward.

Ever since the reaction has been reasonably mixed if not erring more towards happiness the new board has backed a man beyond a torrid period and seems to want to give him the opportunity to improve fortunes as the revolution begins to take shape at Old Trafford. With this backing, though, comes a plethora of expectations not just from the higher ups but supporters also. Failings last season were spectacular, if not without reason, and need a remedy if support is to continue (and be regained in many instances) from the paying public and loyal fanbase.

First needing to change is what was the biggest gripe last season; the seeming lack of tactical direction and identity. Arguably the most controllable failure of his tenure thus far, and certainly the most frustrating as it seemed so obvious what exactly was going wrong. This was until the game against Arsenal, where Ten Hag seemingly changed to be much more robust than he had been, deploying Sofyan Amrabat deeper alongside Kobbie Mainoo (who was given more licence to roam alongside more defensive duties) made it more difficult for sides to profit where they had so often throughout the campaign. Stopping the likes of Arsenal, Newcastle, Brighton and eventually City from having the freedom of the midfield and a free run at the defence was, obviously, much more beneficial and turned fortunes round. In the four games he used this system (or one similar to), United won three and lost one. The four previous it was one win, two draws and one defeat including the humbling at Selhurst Park and a draw against Burnley.

Tying somewhat into the tactical mishaps, is the oftentimes baffling in game management Ten Hag exhibits. This comes with a caveat; he is hardly choosing from the best in class in order to change games in perilous situations, so a portion of the problem doesn’t land at his feet, but beyond this there have been plenty of times fans have been left scratching their heads at decisions made by the Dutchman. First to spring to mind (due to it’s recency) is taking Rasmus Hojlund off with United needing a goal at home to Arsenal when the only replacement was Ethan Wheatley. Next to this is the countless times a centre-back will enter the fray in order to hold out a result, therefore inviting pressure from the opposition that has stung him in the arse more times than should be allowed. Of course adding quality to the squad will only serve to aid the cause, but he really must begin to use the expected improvements to benefit results, and put a lid on the sit-back-and-soak-up mentality that drives him late on in games.

Next is one that is not entirely in his control, but more a club-wide change that is expected by all – Ten Hag must be removed from primary say on transfers and targets, and eyesight needs to be directed away from familiarity. Barring Casemiro, Hojlund and Marcel Sabitzer, players signed during the tenure of the manager have either been managed by him previously, are Dutch, or have previously been courted by him. At Ajax, they had a structure in place that took the burden of transfers largely off the manager and were based around the system they played. At United, Ten Hag was given carte blanche and the ultimate power (beyond having to stick a brush up the Glazers arses in his first window) over deals, this led to him sticking to what he knew and staying comfortable. Antony was brought in due to his working relationship at Ajax and not necessarily with consideration for his suitability to the league. Andre Onana signed simply to enable the managers’ preferred style of play. Mason Mount signed because he had been a long-term admirer of his.

These deals scream comfort zone, they scream of a man bestowed power he isn’t used to and acting in a way he knows. United need to act as most elite clubs now do, and how Ajax did when Ten Hag managed there, and use the scouting network and a Director of Football to conduct business, signing to a system and not a manager and ensuring due diligence is done allowing the most suitable players to be brought to the club. The manager also needs to play ball, he needs to willingly relinquish his power and accept that although he may have preferences that will be considered, when push comes to shove, he is disposable and the good of the club must come first.

Of course there are likely more expectations from supporters. 8th place and a negative goal difference are lamentable, he is aware of this, and it goes without saying INEOS will have made that abundantly clear. Title challenges may be a way off yet, and running shouldn’t be undertaken before walking has commenced, but Ten Hag is now in his third season and another without a top four finish would seriously dent future plans and most likely his status as Manchester United manager. Injuries need to be better managed within the club and conflicting reports surrounding training methods and workload need to be straightened out and addressed internally.

League performances aside, you play this game to win trophies, and two trophies, from three finals, in two seasons (and the famous words of Meat Loaf regarding 2 out of 3) should never be sniffed at even if Premier League campaigns end as atrociously as this one did. The fact he has sustained success, and performances with his strongest 11 fit have certainly shown the green shoots of optimism even if they are sparse in numbers. Personally, I am fully behind Ten Hag and the decision to continue his contract. A manager at some point needed to be allowed to fight through the shite and hopefully come out the other side shining, and though his first season feels a lifetime ago, there was enough there to feel confident of resurgence in less choppy waters. Bald is best, and it is time to show the world.

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1 Comment

  1. In this articles are the reasons I wanted a change in Manager: baffling substitutions, inability to tighten the midfield, no obvious style of play, together with professed unconcern regarding the numerous chances allowed to the opposition.
    However, we are where we are and things do look rosier for next season with better guidance at the top, and the hope that at least some of our transfer targets will join.
    Now, there’s been much focus on our finishing 8th, and clearly that is not acceptable. But a closer look at the final table shows us a mere 8 points behind 4th-placed Villa. OK: call it 9 as our goal-difference couldn’t be classified under ‘excellent’. Of course, their total might be nowhere near enough for 4th next season, but it’s a gap you’d like to think is closable. We might get more than 0 points against Palace, more than 1 against Bournemouth, not lose at home to Brighton.
    Granted, still a long way from the title, but top four is the aim, and I feel it’s very achievable. Don’t be misled by ‘worst.premier.finish.ever.

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