What next for the Man Utd players Erik ten Hag benched vs Liverpool?

Cristiano Ronaldo must leave to be star man, Man United realise they could cash-in on captain Harry Maguire, Fred battles to partner Casemiro while Luke Shaw worries about World Cup spot… what next for the players Erik ten Hag benched in Liverpool win?

  • Manchester United produced a superb performance as they beat Liverpool 2-1
  • Erik ten Hag made a number of bold calls with his team selection at Old Trafford
  • It followed a lot of soul-searching following the debacle of 4-0 loss to Brentford
  • Cristiano Ronaldo was dropped to the bench and United’s attack was excellent
  • Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw looked on wistfully at tenacious defensive display
  • But Anthony Martial is likely to be restored to starting line-up after injury issues 

It was a Manchester United performance of intensity, commitment and passion – and it was long overdue.

Liverpool simply couldn’t contain them and the result was a deserved first win of the Erik ten Hag era following a display poles apart from the losses to Brighton and Brentford.

But the win also owed much to the bold changes in team selection made by Ten Hag even before a ball had been kicked.

Erik ten Hag made some bold selection calls for Manchester United’s game with Liverpool on Monday night, demoting a number of players who struggled in the 4-0 loss to Brentford

He was rewarded with a vastly improved performance as United defeated Liverpool 2-1

Ten Hag’s bold decisions were vindicated as United blew their rivals away at Old Trafford

Reacting to the catastrophic 4-0 loss at Brentford last weekend, the new manager dropped Cristiano Ronaldo, captain Harry Maguire, Fred and Luke Shaw, while also resisting the temptation to throw Anthony Martial straight back in.

The big question now, after such an improved display, is whether those players will be able to get back into Ten Hag’s team going forward.

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Taking Ronaldo out of the team represented a huge call but one that signals a direction forward under Ten Hag.

We all appreciate it’s going to take at least three years of rebuilding to restore United to a trophy-challenging force and Ronaldo is 37 years of age.

What’s more, the Portuguese star has spent recent weeks agitating for a move away from Old Trafford, only to find nobody willing to take on the financial burden that comes with signing him.

Ten Hag knew that if United wanted to really get in Liverpool’s faces, to press and put them under constant pressure, he couldn’t go with Ronaldo, who doesn’t buy into such things.

The manner of United’s win suggested there is a clear way forward without Cristiano Ronaldo

By contrast, his chosen forward line on Monday night – Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Elanga behind Marcus Rashford – all put in a real shift.

While Ronaldo no doubt would have finished off the rapid counter-attack chances United created, it was the hard work around the edges that vindicated Ten Hag’s decision.

Perhaps had Ronaldo started, Liverpool’s back line may not have felt so hurried and hassled from the very first minute and established a foothold. Instead, they wobbled and cracked.

Ronaldo was introduced for Rashford with four minutes left as legs tired and, unless he can secure a move away in the final days of the window, bench-warming could be his fate for the season ahead.

Ten Hag introduced Ronaldo from the bench in the closing stages and the wantaway Portuguese star may have to get used to less game time

United’s next fixtures 

All Premier League. Europa League group stage fixtures are yet to be announced after Friday’s draw.

Saturday Southampton (A)

September 1 Leicester City (A)

September 4 Arsenal (H)

September 11 Crystal Palace (A)

September 18 Leeds United (H)

October 2 Manchester City (A) 

Ten Hag showed he is a man with the courage of his convictions by dropping his biggest name. The performance in his absence proved they can perform even without a man who scored 24 times last season.

The big question now is whether Ten Hag is brave enough to keep one of the world’s greatest-ever players among his substitutes given the inevitable scrutiny that will come his way.

Harry Maguire

Another huge call was to take Maguire out of the starting line-up but his poor performance against Brentford would have made the decision easier.

It’s always difficult to drop your captain, especially after Ten Hag went out of his way during pre-season to put his faith in Maguire.

But the £80m defender has been well below his best for some time now and United have the personnel in central defence to have the luxury of choice.

Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, who started together against Liverpool, looked rock solid and Maguire must have watched wistfully from the dug-out.

It’s fair to say there were positive signs of an understanding between Maguire and Varane when they played together last season.

But Ten Hag, in this time of need, knows Martinez’s game more thoroughly, placed his trust in the Argentine despite his troubles against Brentford and was rewarded.

Maguire was dropped to the bench for the Liverpool game and didn’t get onto the pitch

It was a reaction to a very poor performance by the captain and everyone else at Brentford

There will certainly be no questions asked of Martinez’s 5ft 9in frame after this – he showed tenacity and seemed to win every duel.

Varane produced a commanding performance and always seemed to be one step ahead of the Liverpool players. He showed the class that saw him achieve so much with Real Madrid and win the World Cup with France.

Managers like a settled central defensive pairing with a built-up understanding of each other’s game and so it now looks a bit ominous for Maguire, who will also have one eye on his England World Cup place.

If United are being even more drastic, they could even cash in on Maguire should Chelsea’s interest in the defender prove concrete. 

New signing Lisandro Martinez showed his quality with a commanding defensive performance

Raphael Varane was also rock solid at the back as United kept Liverpool’s attackers at bay

One game out doesn’t necessarily mean Maguire will be warming the bench for the rest of the season – once the Europa League and other cup competitions begin, the schedule for United will be intense.

But, naturally, he won’t be satisfied with missing out on the big Premier League games and so needs to recover his pre-Euros command and poise.

Luke Shaw

A few eyebrows were raised when United moved for another left-back in Tyrell Malacia over the summer given they already had Luke Shaw and Alex Telles in the squad.

But Ten Hag clearly saw an area of weakness when others didn’t and now Shaw, like his England colleague Maguire, finds himself on the outside looking in and also fearing for his spot in Qatar.

He too didn’t get off the bench on Monday night, mainly because Malacia had an absolute stormer both in shackling Mohamed Salah and supporting the attack.

Luke Shaw sat alongside Maguire on the bench having also lost his place in the starting line-up

With Telles sent out on loan to Sevilla, it will now be a direct competition between Shaw and Malacia for the left-back spot – and it’s a race Malacia is currently leading.

Ten Hag hooking Shaw with United trailing Brentford 4-0 last weekend feels like a watershed moment. The manager’s initial faith in the England man has apparently quickly expired.

Again, you never know what’s around the corner but it’s clear Shaw has struggled to rediscover his 2020-21 form and obviously missed the end of last season after undergoing surgery to remove two metal bolts in his leg.

It would seem Ten Hag believes he’s had enough time to reassert his authority on the left of defence and now Malacia is being picked, it could be a while until Shaw gets back.

Tyrell Malacia put in an all-action performance to strengthen his case for a starting berth

Fred

Interesting times ahead for Fred, who has never looked the combative defensive midfielder United so obviously need.

These doubts have led to United snapping Real Madrid’s hand off for Casemiro, paying £70million for the Brazilian, in a desperate search for a fix to their lack of midfield bite.

Fred was another removed unceremoniously at half-time during the Brentford debacle – he was replaced by Scott McTominay – having been completely overwhelmed by Christian Norgaard and Co.

Fred struggled in the Brentford game and found himself relegated to the substitutes 

Ten Hag stuck with McTominay for the Liverpool game and paired him with Christian Eriksen in the midfield two. Both put in good displays to help United get the edge over Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Harvey Elliott.

That was encouraging but Ten Hag now needs to decide on the next little stage of the engine room evolution and it could well see Fred restored.

After all, he has played alongside Casemiro in the Brazil national team of late and they’re likely to be Tite’s first-choice pairing for the World Cup later this year.

Casemiro was unveiled at Old Trafford pre-match and he could line up alongside Fred

If they work well together for Brazil, they might perform well together for United, with Casemiro’s excellent interception and ball recovery skills combined with Fred’s frenetic energy.

But that would still leave United short of a decent midfield ball-player, who can feed Bruno Fernandes at No 10 and the forwards around him.

Only Eriksen can really offer this service and so Ten Hag, who so desperately wanted a midfield passer like Frenkie de Jong, may well favour the Dane alongside the new signing.

In reality, it’s going to depend on the profile of the opposition and so although Fred was demoted to the bench for this one, you can still expect to see plenty of him going forwards.

Scott McTominay showed his industry as United kept Liverpool mostly at arm’s length

Anthony Martial

There were slightly different circumstances around Martial given he’s just returned from a hamstring injury suffered during the pre-season games.

Ten Hag wisely concluded it wasn’t best to throw the Frenchman straight in to a clash with Liverpool for his first competitive minutes of the campaign.

Instead, he replaced Elanga at half-time and supplied the through pass which set Rashford away for United’s second goal eight minutes later.

You suspect that Martial will be back in the starting line-up for the game at Southampton on Saturday lunchtime.

Anthony Martial came on at half-time and looked sharp as he returned from an injury

His scoring form during the pre-season tour resurrected a United career that looked dead in the water when he was sent out on loan to Sevilla back in January.

Now, Martial looks a very credible alternative to Ronaldo at the point of the attack or, as here, on one of the flanks with Rashford leading the line.

We can expect to see plenty of Martial in Ten Hag’s plans now he is back to full fitness.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Wan-Bissaka came on for Diogo Dalot in the closing stages and you wonder whether those 10 minutes or so will be his last in United red.

The player United spent £50million on just three years ago, could be set for a cut-price return to Crystal Palace, especially if Ten Hag lands another right-back in the days before the window closes.

Wan-Bissaka slipped behind Dalot in the pecking order last season under Ralf Rangnick having played all the time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka came on during the final minutes but he has lost his place to Diogo Dalot

Although Ten Hag gave everyone a clean slate in pre-season, Wan-Bissaka obviously didn’t impress enough and it’s been Dalot playing there in the opening weeks of the Premier League.

The Portuguese offers just that little bit more going forward and Ten Hag places high value on a flying wing-back.

It could prove a long and frustrating season of bench-warming for Wan-Bissaka if he hangs around.

Victor Lindelof

Lindelof has yet to feature this season because of injury issues. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to see a route back to regular football for the Swede.

The signing of Martinez plus the presence of Varane and Maguire ahead of him means this erstwhile first choice central defender looks likely to be restricted to Europa League and Carabao Cup outings.

Victor Lindelof has been sidelined with an injury but there’s no clear way back to the first XI

At least there is some reduced competition as Eric Bailly heads out on loan to Marseille but Lindelof looks set to be a bit-part performer this season.

Many fans have long held doubts over Lindelof’s abilities, especially aerially, and if United are to overcome the defensive jitters that ruined last season, they need to look beyond him.

Donny van de Beek

Any notion that Ten Hag would have a flush of nostalgia for their days together at Ajax and immediately bring Van de Beek into the United starting line-up have proved nonsense.

He has so far played just 19 minutes of football over the three games, coming off the bench late in each of them.

Van de Beek has underwhelmed pretty much every time he has pulled on a United shirt, though it isn’t his fault Solskjaer regarded him as surplus to requirements as soon as he arrived.

Ten Hag brought Donny van de Beek (right) on late in the game but his role remains unclear

With Fernandes showing a strong return to form against Liverpool, the No 10 position is nailed down, while the addition of Eriksen over the summer has further dented Van de Beek’s chances of regular game time.

He also isn’t likely to assume a defensive midfield role now Casemiro has been signed and Ten Hag still has faith in Fred and McTominay.

So while Van de Beek found his best form under Ten Hag at Ajax, it still isn’t entirely clear how he fits in at Old Trafford.




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