Erik T Hag 2 Months in ⚽️ – BetKing Blog

Erik ten Hag and The Manchester United Project: Two Months In 

“Rebuilding” is a word that has been heavily associated with Manchester United for the past 9 years; it would be easy to confuse them for an architectural firm. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and the failed David Moyes experiment that lasted only 8 months, the club has undertaken four different rebuilding processes with four distinct philosophies behind them.  


There was Louis van Gaal who wanted to build a team filled with young players with a possession-reliant style of football at its core. Then came Jose Mourinho who favoured a more defensive approach and wanted a team made up of older players, since his vision was more short-term, unlike his predecessor. Next was club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who wanted a mix of both player age profiles – old and young – but played a more counter-attacking style of football. These three managers, each with his preferred style of play, understandably needed the team to invest hundreds of millions of pounds on players that suited them. So, it has come as no surprise that Manchester United has looked a bit all over the place for the most part of the last decade as their plan varies with each managerial appointment. This season, however, there seems to be growing optimism that they may have someone capable of restoring the club to its glory days. 


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Accessing Erik ten Hag’s First Transfer Window   

New manager Erik ten Hag’s first transfer window at Manchester United was met with a lot of raised eyebrows and perhaps rightly so. Four of his six signings are players who have played in the Eredivisie at some point in their careers while two – Lisandro Martinez and Antony – are players who played under him at Ajax. There was also the embarrassing summer-long pursuit of Frankie de Jong – another player who played under Erik ten Hag at Ajax – which ended with the Dutch midfielder opting to remain in Spain; something he spent three months telling Man Utd. 


You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking the new manager’s knowledge seemed limited to Dutch football – on the surface, it does appear that way – but there might be an explanation. There has been a huge change behind the scenes at Man Utd over the past eight months, most notably Richard Arnold, the new Chief Executive Officer and John Murtough, the new Director of Football at the club. There was also the departure of senior scouts at the club after a combined 24-years of service Jim Lawlor, the Chief Scout, joined United in 2006 under Sir Alex Ferguson, and Marcel Bout who was part of Louis van Gaal’s coaching staff before becoming Global Head of Scouting in 2016.  


These major staff changes at the club meant player recruitment was always going to be slow as the replacements transitioned into their new roles. So it was expected that the club was either going to be heavily reliant on Erik ten Hag’s personal relationships with players (like Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia & Christian Eriksen) or the club was going to overpay for players (like they did with Casemiro) or like they did with Antony just before the window slammed shut, both.   

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While Man Utd may have appeared indecisive in the transfer market, the club’s new signings have been largely impressive with significant contributions to the team already made. New left back Tyrell Malacia has looked like a bargain and has displaced the more experienced Luke Shaw from the starting line up. Lisandro Martinez has been a solid addition to the defense as well with concerns about his much talked about height now a forgotten topic. Christain Eriksen has arguably been the most impressive of them all with the Dane bringing a much needed creativity and most importantly, consistency to the midfield. World Class defensive midfielder Casemiro is surprisingly yet to break into the starting lineup but it’s expected that it’s only a matter of time before he does. 


22-year-old Brazilian winger Antony is a signing that carries a lot of expectations. At £85.5m, he’s the club’s second most expensive player behind Paul Pogba who joined in 2016 for £89m from Juventus. He enjoyed a memorable debut with a goal against the Gunners where he showed just how dangerous he can be when given enough time and space but he hasn’t contributed much to the attack though admittedly, he has only been at the club for three weeks. Antony, who played for 2-years with Erik ten Hag at Ajax, has drawn a lot of comparisons to a younger Vinicius Jr. and even a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo; young players with undeniable talent who can sometimes be frustrating due to their excessive dribbling. However, there is understandable positivity at Old Trafford given the player’s high ceiling and the manager’s familiarity with the winger.  

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Erik ten Hag’s Philosophy  

The new manager’s philosophy is something that goes beyond the pitch and, for a lot of fans, it has been a breath of fresh air. Erik ten Hag has been firm and fair in his decision making and there have been multiple examples that show this. His decision to drop Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire after the English duo underperformed in the pre-season as well as the opening two games of the Premier League have been justified so far with the defense looking sturdier than ever. The manager also stamped his authority on the team when 5-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo was dropped from the starting lineup for a month after the Portuguese spent the summer trying to force himself out of the club; a decision which affected his form and fitness following his absence from the pre-season tour to Asia. In a reverse move, midfielder Scott McTominay has retained his place in the starting lineup due to his improvement over the past few weeks. It was assumed that the arrival of Casemiro from Real Madrid would signal the automatic dropping of Scott McTominay but Erik ten Hag has instead rewarded his good performances with more playing time which has earned the manager more respect in the dressing room.  


On the pitch, Erik ten Hag’s preferred playing style proved to be hard for some of the players to grasp. The defense struggled with patient buildups which was very evident in the demolition suffered away at Brentford. He wasted no time in tweaking the team’s playing style rather than stubbornly sticking to what was clearly not working at the time. A more direct approach was adopted while still maintaining the occasional patient build up which Erik ten Hag is known for. This has seen an improved defense which has conceded only 3 goals in the last 6 games with 3 clean sheets – something that might seem normal for other top clubs but is a source of relief to David de Gea.  


In attack, the club has struggled with their conversion of chances. While, admittedly, they are still a team trying to adapt to their new manager, they have failed to kill off games with the 3-1 win against Arsenal the only exception. There has also been the slight concern that the team is heavily dependent on Christian Eriksen’s contribution to the attack and that an injury or suspension to the Dane might derail the team’s progress. In the home fixture against Real Sociedad in the Europa League, the Danish midfielder was a handful for the visitors and created lots of chances in the first half. He was taken off at half time as part of Erik ten Hag’s plan to rotate the squad ahead of the weekend’s fixture. This proved to be costly as Man Utd’s attack in the second half was weakened and the momentum swung Real Sociedad’s way which they capitalised on as they left Old Trafford with all 3-points.  


A credible explanation for Man Utd’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal could be the injuries to Anthony Martial (the club’s leading scorer in the pre-season) and Marcus Rashford (the club’s leading scorer this season) as well as the natural decline of 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward isn’t the player he was just 6 months ago as his pace and finishing have both regressed – as expected of a player his age. However, his little but significant role in the build up to Man Utd’s 3rd goal against Arsenal highlighted his willingness to play Erik ten Hag’s pressing style. As the Dutch manager has explained in multiple press conferences and as he showed with Sébastien Haller last season at Ajax, there will always be a place in the team for a dependable goal-scorer. After getting his first goal of the season from the spot in Man Utd’s 2-0 win over FC Sheriff, it is expected that Cristiano Ronaldo would feature a lot more in the attack with his goal drought now over. 


While it is still early to say for a fact if Erik ten Hag is or isn’t going to be successful at Manchester United with just 2 months into his tenure in the club, the positives have so far outweighed the negatives as he works towards bringing back the good days to Old Trafford.  

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Author: Clayton Kuhn