Erik ten Hag has the backing of Manchester United fans but must do better – opinion

Manchester United concluded their end-of-season review this week, with news that Erik ten Hag would be staying on greeted with a mixed view.

Some were incredibly happy whereas others were not. I was a bit more in the middle. My review of last season would have resulted in a new manager, but since he is to stay, I will sum it up in three words; must do better.

To call it a mixed season would be kind. It ended well and sent United fans off into the summer very satisfied, but it was a slog to get to the end of May. A poor showing in Europe should have been the real warning sign that something was fundamentally wrong.

A lot was pinned at Andre Onana’s door but look closer and you will see a greater problem.

The league form was abysmal, to say the least. United never really got going and looked hopelessly outthought and outmanoeuvred in games against sides with lesser budgets and players of lower quality. Injuries played a key part in this season, of course, but the team shape and tactics exacerbated the flaws of the squad massively.

News reports coming after the announcement indicate Sir Jim Ratcliffe met numerous other managers to do his due diligence on if he decided to part ways with the current manager and what his options were. The question was were they a better fit for the Ineos project than Ten Hag?

The answer seems to be not, a clear favourite never emerged which has played into the Dutchman’s hands. Although it would appear that there will be some concessions from Ten Hag on recruitment and a few other issues as he will be seen as a head coach rather than manager.

I support any manager of my football club… But I am not blind to their faults. I saw some good things in his first season but a lot of troubling things in the second season, for me the big question is can you fix these problems, or will you carry on as per?

He won a battle to keep his job, but the war will take some winning from his current position. The options to replace him will get better as time passes but he needs to use this reprieve to fix the problems of last season but what are those problems?

Fix the current tactical setup

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The Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon are objects that can be seen from space as well as the huge hole in United’s midfield. At times last season teams came through the midfield with complete ease 2 or sometimes 3 on 1 in counter-attacks, some United midfielders must have wondered what they had done to deserve this unique form of punishment. If he fixes the current set-up this should improve our league form, European football requires different subtleties in terms of control and tactics but more on that later.

Ten Hag needs to change this or risk wasting this second chance and going the way of Ole Gunner Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho in getting sacked after a poor first half of the season. A new midfield dynamic is needed to incorporate young Kobbie Mainoo and allow him to blossom, a more physical presence to protect the defence and impose on opponents should be a key target for the recruitment team this summer.

Perform better in Europe

Let us be honest United’s Champions League performance was as low as it has gotten in recent years, but they looked very naive and tactically lacking against decent but not great European opposition and in Europe if you allow better technical players more shots then they will punish you, so a different approach is needed.

A group containing Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen, and Galatasaray should be tough but manageable but in reality, it was naivety not seen since 1994/95 where United could not get out of a group with Barcelona, IFK Goteburg, and Galatasaray.

There was no excuse of European football being a new novelty for English clubs like it was in the 90’s as we have had thirty years of playing and succeeding in the competition, finishing third would have been acceptable to a point but bottom meant United left Europe in a manner reflecting Britain leaving the European Union in more often comedic fashion. Better results and performances will be needed in the revamped Europa League next season to hopefully act as a springboard to future success.

Style of play

Two years in and we are still no closer to pinning down a style that defines Ten Hag at Manchester United, this could work to his advantage though as Ineos will want their own style and blend which should mesh with Ten Hag’s.

He needs to get his players fit and playing in a way that suits both himself and Ineos going forward, last season was a bad one for injuries to key players in defence but I don’t think he can play that card again as that will not wash a second time. Adapting is a key to coaching as it is to life, a plan is always essential, but life has a way of taking your plan and flipping it on itself.

Players miss games or lose form. That is a part of the game but there needs to be a better flexibility of approach and tactics to accommodate this,  the new players the club signs in the summer will have an input from Ten Hag but he will not be the sole voice anymore and how he implements these players will be crucial for him succeeding or failing.

So, these are just three of my major concerns with Ten Hag going forward, United are in a new era and the excuses of the past with the Glazers will only last for so long. If he doesn’t learn his lessons and change then we will get to Winter and be looking for a new coach but if he does, then progress will solidify his position at the club.

A lot of United fans went to bat for him after the cup final to support him and to advocate for him to be manager next season, I myself didn’t think he did enough to keep his job last season, but I am hoping to be proved wrong. I do have a message for Ten Hag though, a large majority of fans wanted you back and are behind you so don’t blow it.

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