Manchester United vs Manchester City in pictures
Erik ten Hag should and will retain the backing of the Manchester United board despite overseeing one of the club’s worst-ever starts to a season. But the Dutchman has issues he must fix before it goes from bad to worse and pressure reaches breaking point under new sporting decision-makers in Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS.
Express Sport looks at four things that will be a significant cause for concern at Old Trafford if they don’t improve in the coming weeks and months.
Ten Hag has been handed free reign over recruitment since his arrival last summer, splashing over £400million on 10 permanent signings and four loans.
But the Dutchman has had more misses than hits, five of which were on show in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Jonny Evans was partly culpable for leaving Erling Haaland in acres of space for his second goal of the match. The 35-year-old was only starting due to Lisandro Martinez’s long-term injury woes, another major concern.
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Christian Eriksen was also poor, and Ten Hag hauled Sofyan Amrabat off at half-time for the second successive game.
Mason Mount replaced him, but it’s been bizarre seeing him start on the bench so often after United spent £60m for his signature in the summer. Especially in favour of Scott McTominay, who Ten Hag was willing to offload.
Antony was also snubbed and had to settle for a late cameo. But he did nothing to justify his £85m price tag again, and it looks to be a misjudged addition.
Once Sir Jim completes his £1.3bn deal for 25 per cent of United, inheriting sporting control, a director of football must be one of his first appointments.
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Ten Hag has regularly stressed the importance of sticking to his principles through rules and application throughout his United reign.
But after the City defeat, he admitted that he would ‘never’ replicate his Ajax style of play at United because he had players for ‘direct football’.
That represents Ten Hag abandoning the philosophy he was brought to Old Trafford to embed into the club in a desperate effort to get results.
It once again comes back to his recruitment. It has been his decision to go down this path, and that seems baffling.
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Even more confusing is seeing players Ten Hag has signed to operate in his desired system watch from the bench as he reverts to players who have proven they are not at the required level.
Mount was destined to be a crucial figure this season. Ten Hag hinted as much by handing him the iconic No 7 shirt. But McTominay is currently preferred, with little to show for it apart from his late heroics against Brentford.
He also claimed Raphael Varane and Sergio Reguilon were on the bench for tactical reasons against Man City. If that was truly the case, it didn’t take Victor Lindelof long at left-back to prove him wrong.
The Bruno Fernandes at right-wing experiment, too, must end. Fernandes has been one of Europe’s best midfielders for club and country centrally. Opting for him over the handful of wingers available makes little sense.
It’s no surprise the boos are growing louder by the game at Old Trafford. United have led for just 29 minutes on home turf in the Premier League this season.
The Red Devils’ tally of five defeats is also the most from their opening 10 league outings in the top-flight campaign since 1986/87.
Rasmus Hojlund was, once again, one of United’s few bright sparks on Sunday. Ten Hag withdrew him when the hosts were chasing a lead. And once again, the fans made what they thought about it clear.
Those boos won’t disappear until things improve. But plenty needs to change before that can happen. And fast.
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