Ten Hag's 10-point plan to save United's season after nightmare start

Prioritise the Europa League ALREADY, bring in competition for De Gea, get rid of Ronaldo and put more faith in the kids… Ten Hag’s 10-point plan to save Man United’s season after a nightmare start

  • Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United were thrashed 4-0 by Brentford on Saturday
  • He is the first United manager in more than a century to lose his first two games
  • The Red Devils are currently bottom of the table after their disastrous start 
  • Ten Hag has several issues to address in order to turn around United’s poor form 
  • Sportsmail outlines a 10-point plan for the Dutchman to help save their season 

As Bryan Mbuemo tucked home Brentford’s fourth goal within just 35 minutes, Manchester United’s players looked shell-shocked and disconsolate, barely able to believe what was happening in west London on Saturday evening.

A performance devoid of leadership, organisation, accountability and togetherness enabled the Bees to beat United for the first time since 1938.

The catastrophic start to Erik ten Hag’s reign continued as he became the first manager in more than a century to lose his first two games as Manchester United boss.

Manchester United’s players were shell-shocked after Brentford blew them away on Saturday

Bryan Mbuemo netted the Bees’ fourth goal within 35 minutes as they overpowered United

Erik ten Hag has plenty to ponder in order to sort out the multitude of problems at the club

That year in 1921, John Chapman’s United finished bottom after losing his first two games and United were relegated to the second division – Ten Hag will surely not face such a disaster but it’s not going to get any easier.

Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Monday and after they put nine goals past United without reply last season, even the most optimistic of United fans may be watching through their fingers when Jurgen Klopp’s side come to town.

They have now lost their past seven away games, conceding 21 goals and scoring just two in the process, and are firmly rooted to the bottom of the table after what was supposed to be a new, successful era under the Dutchman.

However, there is still plenty of time to turn it around and Sportsmail looks at a 10-point-plan for Ten Hag to follow to do just that.

Bring in competition for De Gea

United’s defeat last Saturday was not helped by a David De Gea disasterclass as the Spaniard allowed Josh Dasilva’s speculative shot to squirm through him, before a hospital pass to Christian Eriksen on the edge of his area saw the Dane dispossessed and Mathias Jensen slot home.

While he did come out and apologise to the media afterwards, as De Gea heads into his 12th season at United these mistakes have become increasingly common.

The Europa League final defeat in 2021 is looking more and more like a sliding doors moment for the club.

Not only did it signal the beginning of the end for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but Dean Henderson, having displaced De Gea as first choice keeper, was left out for the Spaniard.

David De Gea put in a poor performance on Saturday and apologised to fans after the game

After Henderson struggled with injuries and Covid-19 in the off-season, by the time of his return, De Gea had re-established himself as No 1 and led to Henderson leaving the club in search of first team football this summer.

His superb performance for Nottingham Forest on Sunday only added to the focus around De Gea’s shocking display.

Eyebrows were raised when De Gea was originally left out of the Spain squad last year, but his performances of late are making it clearer that United need to bring in another goalkeeper to push him.

Tom Heaton is a solid Premier League goalkeeper but for a club of United’s stature better back-up is needed, and if Henderson continues his fine form, the noise will only rise that the club backed the wrong goalkeeper.

Take Martinez out of the firing line

Excitement greeted Lisandro Martinez’s £55million arrival from Ajax this summer, although concerns were raised about his 5ft 9in frame.

Following two miserable Premier League performances, Ten Hag now needs to take his new addition out of the firing line after he was bullied by Brentford’s front-line following a poor display against Brighton.

He was hooked at half-time in west London for Raphael Varane and has been part of a defence that has conceded six times in just 135 minutes when he has been on the pitch.

It is clear that the Argentinian’s height is being targeted as Ben Mee rose above Martinez to nod in Brentford’s third.

There was much excitement this summer when Lisandro Martinez joined from Ajax for £55m

However, the Argentinian has struggled and was hauled off at half-time on Saturday evening

The Bees’ forward Ivan Toney highlighted as such after the game. He said: ‘My qualities in the air is something we worked on. I’m obviously up against a smaller centre-back. It was a good game plan.’

It has since been reported that the defender was dropped as a transfer target by ex-United bosses Ralf Rangnick and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer due to concerns about his vulnerability from set-pieces, according to the Athletic.

With a plethora of centre-backs in Ten Hag’s squad, including Varane, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, there are enough options to allow Martinez a breather.

It is too early to write-off the Argentinian however with Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra famously struggling upon their arrival – both were subbed at half-time in an under-21 game as they failed to deal with the physicality of the English game at first, before the duo went onto become United legends.

Find a place for Eriksen 

The addition of Christian Eriksen on a free transfer was an astute piece of business from United as they added a player with supreme quality.

However, the challenge is finding a role for the Dane with his switch from a false nine against Brighton to a defensive midfielder last Saturday one of the most curious decisions of the Ten Hag era so far.

Eriksen struggled in the role, demonstrating little of the defensive nous that is required for the position. Casemiro’s impending arrival from Real Madrid should negate the need for the Dane to play there again.

Former Brentford star Christian Eriksen struggled when deployed in a defensive midfield role

Ten Hag must find a way to get the best out of both Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes for United

Fitting both him and Bruno Fernandes, two creative attacking midfielders, is key for Ten Hag, but he must strike a balance to avoid leaving his side so woefully exposed.

The Dane excelled during his spell for Brentford last season while playing as part of a midfield three, but tended to be flanked by the impressive Christian Norgaard and Mathias Jensen.

Whether Ten Hag plays Fernandes and Eriksen as part of a three-man midfield or pushes the Portuguese star further forward, finding a way to get two of the Premier League’s most inventive assets firing in the same side is crucial. 

Change the approach from playing out from the back

Ten Hag’s desire to play out from the back is admirable, but it caused United a whole host of problems last week.

Arguably two goals came from their inability to do so, while Brentford created numerous chances following United goal kicks as Thomas Frank’s side relentlessly pressed the away side who looked bereft of confidence.

The lack of movement off the ball hindered the Red Devils and they were overpowered by Brentford’s energy, as the Bees outran United by 13.8km.

As punishment, Ten Hag cancelled a planned day off and hauled the players in to run that same distance in intense heat on Sunday.

United struggled to deal with Brentford’s pressing when they tried to play out from the back

Eriksen was robbed of the ball inside his own penalty area prior to Brentford’s second goal

The ball-playing abilities of De Gea have also been questioned with the Spaniard repeatedly putting his teammates in trouble.

While Ten Hag admitted that they were naive on Saturday and needed to play more direct at times, ruing defensive mistakes, he hinted after the game that the style wouldn’t change.

The Dutchman said: ‘This is a conclusion I will not admit. They showed already they can, in pre-season. This (result) had nothing to do with that (the philosophy).

‘I am confident he (De Gea) can do it (play out from the back). I have seen in training and the first games he can do that.’

Bolster the forward line 

After the huge backlash that followed the links to Marko Arnautovic, along with the disgruntlement at the rumours surrounding Mauro Icardi, the club clearly needs to bolster the forward line but rather needs to set their sets higher than chasing controversial or ageing forwards.

The links to Jamie Vardy this week won’t have helped with the 35-year-old most certainly not what Ten Hag needs as they embark on what is supposed to be a long-term rebuilding project.

With the Cristiano Ronaldo saga becoming more and more toxic, the club must offload the 37-year-old and replace him with someone that will fit the Dutchman’s system.

The transfer links to Bologna’s Marko Arnautovic created huge anger among supporters

35-year-old Jamie Vardy is the latest forward to be linked with a move to Old Trafford

They have also been linked with a deal for Alvaro Morata who seems content at lurching from one elite European club to the next, while a move for Espanyol’s Raul de Tomas has been touted.

Ten Hag must have been baffled that for all their pre-season preparations, they began the campaign without a recognised centre-forward due to the uncertainty over Ronaldo’s future and the injury Anthony Martial picked up at the back end of pre-season.

Martial himself has often been more effective on the left and with the club desperately exposed up front, they can’t afford not to add.

However, United must bring in someone who will fit Ten Hag’s system and grow with the team, rather than a quick fix, with United guilty of signing too many ageing and under-performing forwards such as Falcao, Odion Ighalo and Edinson Cavani in recent years.

Sell Ronaldo ASAP 

The future of the 37-year-old has been up in the air ever since he declared his intention to quit the club earlier in the summer following their failure to qualify for the Champions League.

After missing United’s pre-season tour due to a ‘family issue’, Ten Hag has slowly been reintegrating Ronaldo into the team, but the situation has become increasingly toxic.

The Portuguese star left early after a pre-season game against Rayo Vallecano, while stories continue to emerge of his presence impacting the dressing room and the strong unity that developed during their successful tour of Thailand and Australia.

He has reportedly been eating lunch alone at the training ground, argued against the high-pressing tactics favoured by Ten Hag, and shown his frustration with teammates in training.

Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his desire to leave after United missed out on Champions League qualification

His presence has reportedly negatively impacted the dressing room unity since he returned

Coupled with a few underwhelming performances and his disagreement with Ten Hag’s No 2 Steve McClaren at the final whistle on Saturday when he refused to applaud United’s travelling fans, the situation is becoming more and more untenable.

It is a far cry from that balmy September day last year when he scored on his emotional return to Old Trafford against Newcastle.

The club are still yet to receive any formal interest for the star but it is now thought Ten Hag, who originally wanted to keep Ronaldo, is now in favour of letting the Portugal captain depart.

In a summer where the Dutchman preached unity and discipline before restoring Ronaldo and indulging his antics which appear to be at odds with the club, it would make sense for United to move on from the saga which continues to cloud Ten Hag’s tenure.

Resolve De Jong situation either way after landing Casemiro

United’s elongated pursuit of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong has dominated their summer

United have now spent months chasing Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong to little avail and it continues to hold the club back from building a squad capable of competing under Ten Hag.

While the complicated financial situation at the Catalan club hasn’t helped, with the Red Devils agreeing a £63m deal at one point, time is now running out.

The signing of Casemiro, who is set to join United for £60m, is welcome news as Ten Hag was crying out for a midfielder.

While he is a different type of player to De Jong, the Brazilian brings a wealth of experience and adds much-needed steel and guile to the engine room. 

But they will still want to strike a deal for the Dutchman, even if that seems unlikely at this stage. 

Whatever the club decides, perhaps the most demoralising thing of all is that even by signing De Jong, the multitude of problems United face won’t be solved.

Prioritise the Europa League 

It is perhaps ridiculous to say after just two games, but it already looks as if winning the Europa League is the club’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Liverpool and Man City are in a class of their own, while Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have looked streets above United in the opening two weeks.

Ten Hag’s side have been outplayed by Brighton and Brentford – sides that finished ninth and 13th last year, demonstrating just how far they are from the level of the top four.

United won the Europa League back in 2016-17 under Jose Mourinho, beating Ajax in the final

As they return to the competition they won back in 2017, the last trophy for the club, they will be boosted by their status at top seeds this year.

This should provide Ten Hag with a favourable group stage draw, which will be completed before the World Cup.

The Dutchman will hope he can navigate this before the knockout phases return in February, by which time he will hopefully have settled into the role and developed an efficient and successful system.

Give the youth a chance

One of the few positives to come out of last season for Manchester United was the under-18s winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 2011.

Ten Hag was known in Ajax as a developer of young talent and those at Old Trafford will hope he can replicate something similar here.

Alejandro Garnacho was the top scorer in the Youth Cup with seven goals and we saw him come off the bench during the 2-1 defeat to Brighton.

Last season’s breakout star Anthony Elanga has also been brought on in both games so far, while other promising talents such as Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage, Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri showed glimpses of their talent in pre-season.

The Red Devils won the FA Youth Cup last season for the first time in more than a decade

If results don’t improve, these youngsters deserve a chance and they are likely to be fully on board with Ten Hag’s principles.

The aforementioned Europa League provides a further opportunity for these promising talents to bed in.

Marcus Rashford made his name at the club in the competition, while Brandon Williams originally broke through to the first XI in the 2019-20 Europa League campaign.

The latest promising crop emerging from the club could provide some solace after a miserable start to the campaign.

Improve the attitude in the squad

Despite what the performance and result would tell you on Saturday, Manchester United’s squad is full of talented players.

For example, Bruno Fernandes won Premier League Player of the Month four times in his first year at Old Trafford, while he was also in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in 2020-21.

United’s first team are struggling to adapt to Ten Hag’s preferred style of play so far this season

However, in recent months his form has fallen off a cliff and he was part of £424m worth of talent in the starting XI on Saturday – this was compared to Brentford’s costing just £55m.

But the attitude and application has simply not been there from United’s players under Ten Hag so far.

‘I think I made myself clear. I was definitely not happy,’ Ten Hag said during his pre-match press conference for the Liverpool clash.

‘In football you can talk about philosophy but you need the basic stuff, right attitude and I didn’t see it from minute one.

Ten Hag was unhappy with his player’s attitude in the shambolic display at Brentford

‘You have to bring it every game, especially Monday.

‘Obviously a lot went wrong [against Brentford] but we don’t have to talk about anything when the attitude is not good. ‘

The side’s inability to adapt to Ten Hag’s preferred style of play thus far strengthens the argument to revert back to basics – United are unable to play the way the Dutchman wants.

In a side lacking confidence, simplicity is needed and in a squad littered with expensive signings, Ten Hag must help the players as much as he can by keeping his instructions clear.

Bruno Fernandes was superb during his first 18 months at the club but has struggled ever since

There are so many problems at United but if the Dutchman can get his squad doing what they were bought into do, they will be able to pick up points and Ten Hag can then gradually introduce his style.

Despite the clamour for this, it doesn’t look as if the Dutchman is willing to change his process.

After the Brentford defeat, he said: ‘It (the loss) had nothing to do with tactics. The first two goals is about dealing with the ball and decisions.

‘Brentford were more hungry for one, and two, we conceded goals with individual mistakes. You can have a good plan but then you put the plan in the bin.’

But Ten Hag’s side looked muddled and stripped of belief on Saturday, and he must do all he can to get the players performing to turn around what has gone down as the worst start for a Manchester United manager in over a century.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article