2022: How can Erik Ten Hag avoid falling into the Manchester United trap that his predecessors fell into?

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Last Updated on 28 Apr 2022 9:42 pm (UK Time)

Erik Ten Hag is known as one of the most highly regarded managers in the world, who has managed Dutch giants, Ajax from December 2017, in which he has a 73.8%.

This success is highlighted by their exceptional 2019 Champions League run, which saw them defeat Real Madrid (5-3 on agg), becoming the first team to do that in four seasons, and also stopping Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus with a 3-2 agg win.

Despite losing key players from that team, such as Frenkie De Jong to Barcelona, Captain Mathias De Ligt to Juventus, Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea and Donny Van De Beek to Manchester United, Ten Hag managed to lead Ajax to six wins in their Champions League group this season.

He did this by beating Borussia Dortmund, Sporting and Besiktas (home and away), and despite their run being halted by Benfica (3-2 agg), Ten Hag has shown his quality to rebuild and replace, inspiring great form from Brazilian winger, Antony and West Ham flop, Sebastian Haller (who had 11 goals in 8 Champions League Matches, more than Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Bernando Silva combined.)

Only Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema have more goals in this season’s Champions League than the man who had never played a minute of Champions League Football before.

All of this points to Ten Hag being a reasonable replacement, but succeeding at Ajax and Manchester United are two totally different tasks and he must establish where the others went wrong and change that.

Keys to succeeding at Manchester United

There is no easy fix to the problems Manchester United are facing, with a wage bill of over £200million a year, including payments of underperforming players such as Marcus Rashford (£200,000 a week), Harry Maguire (£190,000 a week) and Luke Shaw (£150,000 a week), a major restructure of the club is required.

On top of this, the Red Devils have not won silverware since May 2017, when Jose Mourinho’s side lifted the Europa League, after defeating Ten Hag’s current side, Ajax (2-0).

With the red half of Manchester having seen Manchester City win three Premier Leagues, four league cups, and an FA Cup since then, whilst their old rivals, Liverpool have won the Premier League (2019/2020), Champions League (2018/2019) and are potentially on course for a historic quadruple, the need for some success and pride to return to Manchester United has never been greater.

1) Adopt a possession-based attacking style of play (get the fans back onside)

This one is self-explanatory, the general rule is that you are given more time to implement your ideas to success if the team is exciting to watch (Nuno was sacked at Tottenham after two months as poor results were not even exciting to watch.) Manchester United have always been known for dominating possession and having players who are comfortable on the ball but recently they have moved away from this.

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Over the last six seasons, Manchester United have not been in the top four of sides in possession terms. They average 55% over the last six seasons, which is not bad but when compared to their great rivals, Manchester City (67%) and Liverpool (62%), this begins to be given context.

To achieve this, Ten Hag must have a more progressive midfield, to add to the individual talent of Bruno Fernandes.

Suggested Signing: Pierre-Emile Hojberg

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The Danish midfielder ranks number one (midfielders) for Progressive Distance in his completed passes, this season. He has gone rather under the radar at Tottenham this season, with the excellence of Heung Min-Son taking all the headlines but his influence may help Spurs into the top four.

Ten Hag’s problem: Tottenham are a rival and if they can get Champions League Football next season it will be very difficult to prise him away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

2) Shore up a dodgy defence

The problems at the back for Manchester United have been well documented and with the struggles of Captain Harry Maguire, the Red Devils have conceded 51 goals (which is joint 7th worst in the League).

Most of their problems have come from being disorganised and not having clear ideas of their actual defensive positioning, this was highlighted in their recent 4-0 defeat to Liverpool, in which Alex Telles and Harry Maguire were caught out for the first goal and Sadio Mane being left unmarked in the box to help himself to Liverpool’s third.

The defence often does the wrong thing at the wrong time, over-committing when dropping back is required or dropping back too far when someone needs to put a challenge in.

Ajax only conceded five goals in their six group games, one less than Liverpool, and Ten Hag’s side have only conceded 15 goals in 30 Eredivisie matches, in fact they have only conceded 38 in their last 64 matches.

Whilst there is a case that the quality and level of competition of the league is less than the Premier League, to have a philosophy where you are able to freely score (102 goals last season and 86 this season) whilst being able to competently defend is what Manchester United have needed, that right balance.

Suggested Signing: Jurrien Timber

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This would be the perfect signing for Ten Hag, a player who he has worked with for the past three years and someone who at only 20 Years of age has plenty of time to grow and improve as a player.

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Timber has 2.4 tackles per game and 1.5 interceptions per game in the Eredivisie this season, making an average of 76.4 passes per game at a 91.7% success rate, he also has a key pass every other game.

There have been rumours linking the young defender to Old Trafford and with Manchester United in great need of a defence and defender for the future, Timber would fit the bill.

Problem for Ten Hag: This would be a massive move for the young man, the struggles of Donny Van De Beek have shown that the step-up is significant and Manchester United may have to part with somewhere in the region of £40million due to the player’s obvious potential.

3) Restructure Manchester United’s wages

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Paul Pogba may be leaving the club, but Manchester United still require a wage upheaval 

As mentioned before, Manchester United have a giant wage bill, Manchester United have the largest annual wage bill in the Premier League by about £40million (second is Chelsea), for the club to be in sixth.

The issue is that far too many players are under-performing for their wages, with Rashford, Maguire and Shaw all earning more than £150,000 per week.

Manchester United must take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book, who despite going for a historic quadruple have a wage bill of £134million, which is over £70 million less than the Red Devils.

For this, Manchester United must get rid of their undesirable players who fill up salary.

Suggested Sold Players:

Edinson Cavani, 35 (£250,000 per week)

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Was a decent free signing, but with 2 goals in only 12 Premier League matches, he should not be paid more than Bruno Fernandes. He is also injured at the moment and may be unlikely to return to Manchester United’s first team.

Juan Mata, 32 (£160,000 per week)

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A decent signing for Manchester United but one that has probably overstayed his welcome. He has only played 12 games across the last two Premier League seasons, whilst earning around £16million (1.3million per each game played).

Thin ice: Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, Fred and Victor Lindelof)

Four players who have massively underperformed this season, Marcus Rashford looks disinterested when he plays but if Ten Hag can inspire him then Manchester United have themselves a player that will be like a new signing.

Maguire is prone to a mistake and cost £80million (a record transfer fee for a defender), his England form shows that he is capable of being at the very least competent, as he was named in the Euro 2020 team of the tournament (despite missing the first two matches).

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Fred is being paid £120,000 a week and despite an improvement in his form, he is a player who I believe does not have a great deal of credit and would be one of the first to leave should things continue to go South.

Victor Lindelöf is very much like Harry Maguire, too prone to rushing out. He seems to be from the Dejan Lovren school of defending, with an obsessing need to win every challenge. If Ten Hag gets Timber, then one of these two defenders will be the first to fall.

Concluding thoughts

While this has been a very basic success plan, I realise it will not be easy, what we have seen from other sides, such as Liverpool, is the manager (in this case, Jurgen Klopp) being given time to implement their tactics and be able to buy the players to fit said system.

Manchester United have been too quick to fire managers, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho because of poor results and have been left with players who fit the old system and a new manager has to adopt those players and try and mould them into his system.

This rather more often that not fails. From Jurgen Klopp’s first season, only Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Joe Gomez and James Milner have been ever-present and only Jordan Henderson would consistently make a current Liverpool Starting Eleven.

The key point is that it will take time, this may be an issue for Manchester United fans who are used to success and trophies but they must sacrifice short-term goals (Europa League trophy and League Cup) for the chance to compete once again at the highest level on a regular basis.

What they must remember is that it took Jurgen Klopp three full seasons to win the Champions League and that saw failures in the Europa League and League Cup finals of 2016, to drive success.

Whilst Manchester United have failed to be driven on by the failure of their Europa league final defeat to Villarreal last season, Ten Hag’s aim must be to help set Manchester United up for long-term success and the fans will have to get onboard with this idea.

the key thing going for Erik Ten Hag is that he is known for his attractive style of play something that his predecessors (David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) were not.

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