After a horrible, no good, very bad, terrible start to the season against Brentford and Brighton, it appears that Ten Hag’s Reds have turned a corner. Going into our third game against Liverpool, Manchester United had conceded 6 goals and scored once. No one in the world, including Manchester United fans, would have expected us to take the game right to Klopp’s face, and come out with a dominant performance against one of the best teams in Europe. But we did. And in it, found a rock-solid defensive line with a rejuvenated Varane teaming up with Martinez. Boy, first time in a decade I was excited to see our defending above all else.
Today we look at players whose fortunes have changed, for better or for worse, under Ten Hag.
David de Gea
At the start of the season, fans brushed him off as washed-up, still good at stopping blinders, but not good enough to play Ten Hag’s system from the back. And for all intents and purposes, United were in the market for a top goalie to replace him. Dubravka’s signing aside, we ended the transfer window with DDG still the preferred/only #1 option for Ten Hag.
After the poor start and leaking goals, De Gea has sort of found a new lease of life under Ten Hag. It is early to say if he has fully embraced the new style of play under Ten Hag, but recent games have shown that his distribution from the back has been a marked improvement from what we’re used to seeing from him. Perhaps it is premature to say, but I will anyway – DeGea may just be evolving his game to reclaim his undisputed spot in the squad. And that will be a treat to watch.
I have been so very wrong about Dalot. My god he has made me eat my words, and then some. Dalot is a new man, and he’s on a mission. There were always questions about Dalot, and I thought he was played ahead of Wan-Bissaka not because Dalot was good, but because Wan-Bissaka was abysmal going forward. I always thought Dalot was more of a utility player who wasn’t very good at anything in particular.
However, in Ten Hag’s system, Dalot has shown significant improvement in his defending, as well as playing that dual role of occupying midfield while creating space for the winger, and then overlapping to go wide and feed the ball into the box. He has 1 assist this season and has played 536 minutes of Premier League football, clearly establishing himself as the preferred RB, for now.
Special brownie points to Dalot for saying the following – “We have a chance to be remembered as players that brought Man Utd back.” Goosebumps.
To say Maguire’s having a tough time is an understatement. Our captain seems to have lost his confidence, and his way in the team. All of the hatred against him is not justified, but he hasn’t really showed up on pitch and shut his critics. If at all, his interviews have given more fodder to the haters.
Wherever you stand with Maguire, there is no doubt that he is a decent enough defender. He has his shortcomings but is also very good at moving the ball forward from the back. Which is especially why him being left out of Ten Hag’s starting 11 is quite telling. We have found a formidable defensive line in Dalot-Varane-Martinez-Malacia, and there seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel for Maguire. Unless he pulls himself out of the darkness and makes a statement when given a chance (probably at a cup game), his future looks bleak.
Luke’s journey at Manchester United has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. From the tough days under Jose, breaking his foot and then rejuvenating his career in a way that made fans and pundits alike call him one of the best LBs in the world.
However, in Malacia Ten Hag has recruited a quick LB with great attacking instinct, and calm on the ball. All killer qualities to have in such a young LB. This has put Luke’s future in question. However, it does feel like Luke will have his fair share of games and will not be completely shut off. Our depth is low, and Luke is still a damn good LB capable of defending as well as pairing up with Rashford/Sancho to deliver attaching balls in the box. Surely more to come from him!
Fred is one player who, until now, has always had a consistent run at games. He has been a sure starter for all of Ole’s reign, and then again with Ralf. That was more to do with the quality of our midfield. However, credit where due, Fred has delivered a performance that can be safely classified as consistent. You know he’s not going to turn into prime Neymar, but you can bet your life that he’ll be all over the midfield, scrapping for every tackle.
Well, with Casemiro and Eriksen joining the midfield squad, and a determined McTominay, Fred has seen more of the bench this season under Ten Hag than ever before. And unless we see injuries, Fred may be restricted to cup competitions.
One of the most polarizing players in the squad. McTominay is no Casemiro, or Toni Kroos or Modric. But hey, he’s got sauce and Ten Hag seems to be loving it. This one was a surprise to me. I would have wagered that as Ten Hag found his playing 11, Scott would lose his spot and would probably ask for a way out of Manchester United. But recent games have shown Ten Hag rates him, and has chosen to play him over Casemiro – even if it’s for Casemiro to get acclimated. To be fair to Scott, he has been immense and has shown an intensity that Ten Hag clearly appreciates. Looks like, for now, McSauce isn’t going anywhere.
Rashford and Sancho
Is it just me or does Rashy look full of confidence lately. That goal against Liverpool gave a glimpse of the old Rashford. And it feels brilliant! We are severely short of a out and out striker, and clearly Ten Hag has taken a liking to playing Rashford in a central role. With 3 goals and 2 assists in as few as 6 games, Rashford seems to hitting his stride again, and makes me excited about his role in this Ten Hag system. And he was just voted the September PL Player of the Month (Yeah!)
Along with Rashford, Sancho also seems to be finding his zone at Manchester United. After a hugely promising transfer, Sancho has shown glimpses of his brilliance, but has not quite lived up to the promise that we all had hoped for. Partly because the whole team has been poor, and partly probably because he has been played at the right as well as left wings and has never quite settled into a stable role. But that has changed with Antony’s signing and looks like Jadon has really enjoyed playing on the left wing. He’s got 3 goals across the PL and Europa and seems to be enjoying his role. Can’t wait to see what he does going forward!
Finally, CR7 has had a less than ideal transfer window and start to the campaign. Not only did he not his final big transfer to a UCL playing team, but he has also been left out of the starting 11. He has started on the bench in 5 out of the 6 PL games. This, in spite of the fact that we don’t have an out-out striker. Ten Hag has made it clear that he prefers Rashford, and probably Martial, over Ronaldo. However, there may still be a crucial role for Ronaldo in the team. Especially, in Europa and Cup competitions. It is mind boggling to think Ronaldo, at 37, has never played the Europa league in his adult life – the last record shows he played the UEFA cup at 17, and since has only played in the UCL. That is mental.
And now, the Goat gets to leave an imprint in a second-fiddle, yet important for Manchester United, competition. And while he will not be a regular premier league starter, until United sign a proper striker, there will always be a critical role for him to play. Still, with Ten Hag, his fortune has taken a left turn, no denying it.
When I set out to write this piece, I expected to write about 5 or so players. However, as I examined every position, I’ve realized nine players have had a major turn of fate under the new manager. We’re at the cusp of something big at United, and I am excited to see this re-energized squad.