Erik ten Hag, Midseason Grading

Erik ten Hag

Erik ten Hag Begins to Make Progress at Manchester United

Another year is over, and another January transfer window is nearly shut. Erik ten Hag has had little more than 8 months to make something of this Manchester United team. As has been the case for any manager, under the Glazers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, he’s been working hard with one, if not both hands tied behind his back at times.

The domestic football season is just past its midway point, and the transfer window is still open. Now seems an appropriate time to reflect on ten Hag’s performance so far. It also seems appropriate to assess what, if any, January signings are needed to continue progressing.

The bottom line for ten Hag’s performance so far has been a positive and progressive experience. He came into the club with an idea of how to play football and he implemented it from day one. What’s more, to date, it’s hard to argue against his model.

From Rocky Start to Fierce Competitor

Manchester United lose to Brighton opening day. Credit: Image: BBC Sport

Granted the first few games of the season were not ideal. An opening day loss to relegation fodder, Brighton and Hove Albion as well as a resounding 4-0 loss to Christian Eriksen’s former team Brentford were hardly an ideal way to start the season. Especially after a such a promising preseason.

But, after the unexpected win against Liverpool in game week three ten Hag began to discover a winning formula. Since then, United have rallied to a record of 12-3-5 in the Premier League and 21-3-6 in all competitions. One of those losses being the 6-3 defeat to City.

That amounts to a little better than a 70% win percentage. Or in other words he has not lost in 80% of his games in charge at United. This is the best start that any coach in the history of Manchester United has ever had.

Ten Hag Has United Firing on all Fronts

United are still fighting in the FA Cup, Carabau Cup and the Europa League. It would also seem we are odds on for a top four spot. While some pundits are tipping Manchester United to mix it up a little in the title race. This weekends mistake ridden loss against Arsenal may be a good indicator of just how romantic an idea that is.

United lack depth. Ten Hag lacks a reliable 20+ goal a season striker. While, without Casemiro in the squad we seem to lack the ability to finish off games or protect a lead. Until we deepen our bench a lot more I’ll be taking the idea of United in a title race with a grain of salt.

Erik ten Hag is Working his Magic

Ten Hag has won 9 of his last 11 matches as well as the last 10 matches at home. He is the fastest United manager ever to have reached 20 wins, he did it in 27 games.  Currently we are 3 points ahead of Tottenham, with a game in hand, and 10 points ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea. Top four seems a certainty unless something catastrophic happens at United.

Since signing for United, ten Hag has now beaten Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, and Jurgen Klopp. The icing on the cake is the massive turnaround in the productivity of Rashford, Shaw and Bruno from last season. The statistics simply don’t lie.

The fact ten Hag has done all of this while handicapped by our ownership and executive staff is remarkable. With the team performing well, most of us United fans have been happy to turn a blind eye to some of his more questionable decisions.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Ten Hag vs Ronaldo Credit: Image: Twitter

Benching Ronaldo and Maguire (keeping in mind Maguire is still officially club captain, like it or not) was ballsy. As was blacklisting AWB, Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams at the beginning of the season when we were short on bodies. Or loaning out players like Amad, Henderson, Baily, Telles, Hannibal and Shoretire, again, when we are low on bodies.

Some might also be wondering what has become of our $80million dollar man, Jadon Sancho. Who is getting paid $435k a week to do fuck all.

But if you consider his results and the teams performances thus far it hard to argue against these decisions.

Ten Hag is Making Bold Moves

Blacklisting AWB seems to have given him the kick in the ass ten Hag was hoping for. In spite of his gaff at Arsenal at the weekend AWB is playing lights out. Williams, Jones and Tuanzebe proved they can’t cut it, so they are being floated in the shop window. While most of the players loaned out are rumored to also be in the shop window…Except maybe Amad and Hannibal.

Maguire was never good enough to be a United player let alone captain. The fact he was brought in to actually be captain is an indictment of just how weak the dressing room mentality was at the time of his signing. Bruno was United’s real captain from the moment he signed, and he seems to be thriving in the roll.

The Cristiano Ronaldo Wormhole

Ronaldo refuses to come off the bench for Manchester United and leaves the game. Credit: Image: talkSPORT

Without diving down too much of a rabbit hole, Ronaldo simply didn’t fit ten Hag’s style of football. There is no shame in this, despite what Ronaldo himself would have us believe.

His contributions under United’s current system were not just non-existent, they were downright detrimental to the team’s success. This is not the same team or structure as last season. Ronaldo simply went way past being ineffective in this team and turned into full on disruptive.

Ten-Hag rightfully threw down the hammer on Ronaldo and the rest is history. Bottom line on Ronaldo, love him, hate him, commiserate with him, justify or condemn his actions, he simply didn’t fit in this team under our current manager. Any player in that position needs to change to compensate (which Ronaldo never was) or look for greener pastures.

It’s because of the Glazer’s that the Ronaldo situation blew up the way they did. Ten Hag told them to sell Ronaldo in the summer, but his marketing pull was too tasty a treat for the Glazer’s to relinquish. But, that is yet another rabbit hole we can dive down some other time.

Ten Hag’s Handling of Jadon Sancho

The decision yet to bear fruit is having Jadon Sancho train on his own. There aren’t many details surrounding his situation. All we know is that he needed to be removed from the dressing room in order to create a better environment for him to train in. He supposedly need time to recover from both a mental and physical lack of fitness.

He has only recently returned to first team training. Time will have to tell if ten Hag made the right call with sancho.

Most of the risky decisions ten Hag has made seem to have been for the greater good of the team. And most of them have come to fruition. As the season goes on we will see how his resistance to rotation and cleaning house have effected United’s ability to compete in the latter parts of the season.

Erik ten Hag Graded

All thigs considered, I’d give him a grade of B. No matter how hard I try, I can’t in my right mind grade him with an A. Even in spite of our progress. Consider that ten Hag has positioned himself at United as benevolent dictator. With as much power as he appears to wield, I am disappointed at how terribly the Ronaldo situation had been handled.

Additionally, the fact that ten Hag is relying on or riding (you decide which) on so few players to start game in and game out is risky. Eventually fatigue, injury or as we saw against Crystal Palace with Casemiro, an accumulation of yellow cards all come into play.

You see the cracks starting to show with players like AWB and Fred loosing focus at key moments, conceding a goal. Or Eriksen who looks a shadow of himself from pre World Cup. This is all down to fatigue.

The question still begs, would United have been better against Arsenal if Casemiro had played?

What Transfers Does ten Hag Need?

It’s obvious that ten Hag needs more investment into the squad in order to continue progress. The question lingering in most United fan’s minds’ is what do we need to start winning titles, and what should we expect in the rest of this January window?

Truth be told, Alex and John have covered this on the pod pretty extensively.

Martial is the only player we have you could kind-of call a no. 9. Forget about his lack of productivity in front of goal, he is constantly injured. We need not one, not two but probably three strikers. Specifically, strikers whose primary position is as a no 9.

At the moment we have a lot of attacking players that can play in that position like Rashford, but none that thrive in that roll.

4D Chess or Overreliance on Senior Players?

Credit: Image: The Mirror

Ten Hag also seems to rely too much on Varane, Martinez and Shaw. AWB is starting to shine in the absence of Dalot, who has been in fine form this season as well. And Malacia has made a solid deputy for Shaw.

However, ten hag doesn’t seem to fancy Lindelof, Maguire, Baily, Tuanzebe or Jones. Can you blame him? And no one seems to be arguing that AWB or Dalot will win United trophies.

The consensus seems, United need to off load our defensive deadwood. We also need to bring in at least one center back to provide more reliable rotation for Varane and Martinez than Shaw, Maguire and Lindelof (in that order). And we need to ship either Dalot or AWB and bring in a world class right back.

Midfield Lack of Depth

United are also relying heavily right now on the midfield trio of Casemiro, Eriksen and Bruno. Casemiro has been United best player this season by a country mile. Eriksen has played more minutes for Untied than any other United player. While Bruno has contributed to more of United’s goals this season than any other player.

Cover for these three players is an injured and under performing Donny Van de Beek, a substandard McTominay and Fred, and a few untried, up and coming youth players. It would be a significant blow to the team if one or more of our starting midfield trio of players is injured or picks up a multigame suspension. The game at the weekend against Arsenal is proof, as we seriously missed Casemiro on the day.

Thus, I believe United need another CDM to allow Casemiro to rotate and get a rest. Ten Hag could also do with a proper box to box midfielder. A player like Michael Carrick who can play at both ends of the pitch and in transition.

Erik ten Hag Working With Bargain Bin Loanees

Finally, we needed another goalkeeper since Newcastle recalled Dubrovka. But, that problem seems to have been temporarily solved with the loan signing of Jack Butland. But, come summer window I believe United will go hard for a new senior keeper. Likely one of the ilk to replace DeGea not play backup.

Wout Weghorst signs for Manchester United. Credit: Image: Sky Sports

United also signed Wout Weghorst on loan for the rest of the season.

The 6’6” dutchman is meant to provide cover for the front line, but his performances against Crystal Palace and Arsenal showed his fitness isn’t up to Premier League level just yet.

Ten Hag brought him in because he is a good presser of the ball. In fact, his career pressing stats are on par with some of the best strikers in the Premier League. He also happens to have decent hold up play, his height and strength are an asset at set pieces and he was cheap. But a goal machine he is not. I don’t expect ten Hag’s fellow countryman to start many games once Martial returns to fitness.

Erik ten Hag’s United a Work in Progress

United lack enough reliable depth to seriously challenge for the Premier League or Champions League. If United do bring in any more players in the January window it’s likely to more bargain bin players on loan.

The Glazers have piled debt onto this club and are ready to cut bait and run, leaving United fans in their wake without a care of what they leave us with. There is no money in the coffers, the war chest is empty, and the Glazers are looking to transfer their mess onto someone else. Why would they spend any serious money in this window when they are hoping to not be around long enough to reap any benefit from further investment into the team.

My guess would be that Weghorst will be the last signing under the Glazer tenure. And what a fitting signing it is. A sort of symbolic petering out of a previously all powerful maniacal dictator.

Ten Hag will likely have to make due with this current crop of players for the rest of the season. So far he has done a spectacular job that has exceeded all expectations. If he can continue this progress for the rest of the season then we will likely be looking at top three and at least one trophy solidified.

For now, ten Hag’s success and progress has earned him the benefit of the doubt. And for the first time in years watching United is becoming fun again.  I for one, cant wait to see what ten Hag and United have in store for the rest of the season.

Glory, Glory Man United.

About Keagan Priest McNicol 28 Articles
My Name is Keagan. I am a lifelong fan of the Red Devils and the beautiful game. My favorite things in the world are my family and friends, Manchester United, good food, the great outdoors, sarcasm and tennis. Green and gold until the club is sold.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.