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Monday, June 24, 2024

A new low at this point of the season is exactly what Ten Hag didn’t need

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It’s symbolic that Erik ten Hag stood helplessly on the touchline in the stadium where he first watched Manchester United in person waiting to take over at the end of the 21-22 campaign.

Back then he wanted to see the job he had on his hands and assess the squad he was about to inherit as he set about ‘fixing’ United.

Fast forward two seasons later and new ownership executives were sat in the same position assessing the Dutchman as his side sunk to an incredulous new low.

Leaving the stadium as the manager waiting in the wings in 2022, he pondered what could be done at the start of his journey as United manager.

He may have left Selhurst Park on Monday night with time running out to complete the task he was hired to do.

This is no way to finish a season when you’re being closely watched by the new sheriff in town. The season isn’t over but everybody wants it to be.

Momentum has noticeably dipped since coming back from the international break after the best moment of the season. United’s bizarrely chaotic play-style and easily exploitable block has caught up with them.

Conceding four goals away to Crystal Palace no matter what stage at the season is going to be humiliating.

Noticeably bereft of Marcus Rashford and talisman Bruno Fernandes, it seems as though those wins earlier in the year where at least United fans had the attack to outscore the opposition and cheer them up seem to have disappeared.

It used to be a strength of United under Ten Hag to break down these mid-table low blocks, but against Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Nottingham Forest away when tasked with having more of the ball, they don’t know how to conduct moves to hurt teams.

Now all we see is two United players marked up, resulting in Onana kicking it long in hope.

Add in the painfully noticeable defensive issues and it’s a mess.

United lost just seven league games the entire season after August in 22-23. They have lost 13 games already and it could get worse.

A representation of United’s detrimental reverse in fortunes was seeing Casemiro’s sad performance.

Heralded as a transformative superstar signing, the glue that held everything together. He’s now become incredibly fallible. Jumping into tackles and committing comically.

The Brazilian was damningly dribbled pasted eight times.

The injuries have been an overwhelming constant, you’d never in your life think you’d have to field a center-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Casemiro.

It’s obviously the asterisk that you have to mark in the context of the season, but even when United had numbers back there wasn’t a change of plan, they were just better in possession.

This team has continued to concede shots, space, and chances for fun. Any wins that may have papered over the cracks through those basketball-esque games or the 1-0 scrapers thanks to screamers after screamers have gone and this is what remains.

With the yearly nature of how topsy-turvy the top four chases tend to be, continuing to string results together after the break wasn’t out of the question but United has won twice in seven games since returning from the internationals.

Don’t know how to create chances, don’t know how to stop them. It’s nothing we haven’t seen all season.

It feels like the league position is finally resembling that.

Ten Hag’s biggest issue this season is a reluctance to change what United does without the ball and with it, despite there being overwhelming evidence he shouldn’t persist.

The easy-to-exploit man-marking without the ball. The lonely high line press leaves gaps in the middle. The abandonment of principles to go long in the winter. The chaos ball of ‘you attack now we attack’ and winning by a nose hair.

There’s never been a plan B whilst plan A never looked convincing.

Ten Hag said after the Brentford loss: “We concede shots, but we don’t concede so many goals.” The 4-0 loss to Palace disputes his consistent defending of the bizarre style.

There may be nothing to play for in the league but with an INEOS executive finally working at the club and not on gardening leave, every match has importance for the Dutchman.

On the face of it, Ten Hag is ruining the credibility he worked hard to build up last season. Despite the constant issues at United, he was able to win a trophy, earn a Champions League spot, and appear in an FA Cup final.

The only manager to earn more points since Sir Alex left was Mourinho with 81, Ten Hag got 75 in his first season.

Ultimately, Ten Hag is on trial at the minute and is failing miserably. Selhurst Park was the setting for his first live appearance as the new United manager, it may also be the place for one of his last.

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