The Dutchman comes with a lot of pedigree and a lot more expectations.
“I know the history of this great club and the passion of the fans, and I am absolutely determined to develop a team capable of delivering the success they deserve.” These were the first words of newly appointed Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag. The Dutchman has agreed to take up the reins at Old Trafford signing a three-year deal with an extra year in option.
The Dutchman’s appointment ends the long search by the Red Devils for their next permanent manager. Erik Ten Hag comes with a lot of potential and pressure. The Dutchman has won five trophies at Ajax. He is on course to win his sixth overall and his third Eredivisie title with the Amsterdam club. He also led Ajax to the Champions League semifinals and almost to the final in 2018-19.
Ten Hag will now move to one of the most scrutinised and supported clubs in the world. His quality and record speak for themselves and have already raised a lot of expectations among fans and experts alike. The Red Devils under the management of Ralf Rangnick needed some change to inspire their downturn in form. They have been insipid this season and are currently placed 6th in the Premier League table. United currently run the risk of losing out on Champions League football. What’s worse? They have gone through their fifth season without a trophy.
The former Utrecht manager will join the club in the summer and has a lot of work to do to restore Manchester United back to their glory days. A lot of challenges lie in Erik Ten Hag’s path to come good on his words of “delivering success”. We take a look at the top five things that he needs to improve at Manchester United.
5. Quality over quantity
Manchester United currently have 38 players in their first-team squad (including players on loan). This indicates a very bloated squad that needs to be restructured.
Multiple reports claim that Erik Ten Hag has been given the license to have full control of transfers. Manchester United are going through a rebuilding phase and plenty of players are also out of contract in the summer. So that will help in trimming the bloated squad down a bit.
His focus should be on signing young, quality players who increase the profile of the play. While he has shown that at Ajax, trying to replicate the same at a club like Manchester United will come with its own challenges and competition. Therefore, it is important that he and the club take time to plan properly to construct their squad in the way ten Hag envisions and the squad that would suit his style of play.
4. Improving the defence
Manchester United are going through the second-worst defensive season in the last decade. The Red Devils have conceded 48 goals this season, the fourth-worst defensive record in the league. They could surpass their 2018-19 tally of 54, their worst since the Premier League started in 1992.
Therefore, it is clear that defence is a prime area of improvement. United have spent more than £200 million on defenders since they last won a trophy in 2016. But their backline has blown hot and cold and has been poor this season.
Manchester United’s expected goals conceded this season is 51 by this point. This is the third-highest in the Premier League ahead of Burnley and Norwich who are battling relegation. Therefore, the picture couldn’t be clearer for ten Hag. The Dutchman needs to prioritise a defensive reshape or improve the likes of the struggling Harry Maguire.
3. Promote youngsters and academy players
Manchester United pride themselves on their culture of promoting and developing young players. The values are embossed in their “Youth. Courage. Success” epithet on their shirts.
But over the last few years, very few players have been promoted from the academy. There is no dearth of youthful talent the Red Devils possess. But they and ten Hag need to streamline the process of promoting youth into the first team.
Ten Hag has developed some great young talents at Ajax like Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui among others. The expectation would be for him to similarly develop and promote young talents like Hannibal Mejbri, James Garner and others. This will help bring in players who are hungry and committed to the team’s success and freshen up a very stale, uninspired outfit.
2. A settled tactical approach
Despite possessing big names, United lack a clear tactical approach. Their rivals have stolen a march on them in this regard. There is no clear tactical blueprint that the Red Devils have been ingrained into over the past few years.
Ten Hag is known to operate a free-flowing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. He emphasises tactical flexibility, quick interplay and changes, and work rate off the ball. Therefore, his first job would be to create a settled and consistent tactical approach for his players. For this, he would also need the right players for each role. But more importantly, he needs his players to be more cohesive and quick on the ball, something that United clearly lack at the moment.
Each player should be given a definitive role that they need to stick to in the team rather than the scattergun approach that the Red Devils currently employ. That would come down to how well he can coach and how quickly he can make the team adapt to his methods. This makes for an interesting view.
1. Culture within the club and the players
The most important thing for ten Hag to change remains the culture within the club. The atmosphere at Old Trafford and within the club is well documented by now and it doesn’t make for good viewing.
Player power and dominance are often reported in the media. Therefore, ten Hag must quickly get the players on his side and make them commit to him rather than the other way around. Ten Hag needs to focus on the players who are committed to the club’s success. He needs to make every player dispensable and make them fight for their place in the squad.
For long, Manchester United have suffered from footballing negligence, the entitlement feeling, and lack of planning. The expectation on ten Hag will be to change the culture and discipline around the club. But there will definitely be expectations on success also considering the history and scale of United. The hope is once again on change to inspire a change in the Red Devils fortunes and get the club back to its heydays, just like ten Hag has promised.