2.8 C
-5.1 C
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

EPL TALK: Erik ten Hag is all out of excuses after derby defeat

- Advertisement -

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag looks dejected after losing to Manchester City in the English Premier League. (PHOTO: Michael Regan/Getty Images)OLD Trafford has turned. The boos were always reserved for the Glazers, but the target has changed. During the Manchester derby defeat, they came for Erik ten Hag.The Manchester United manager’s decision to take off Rasmus Højlund in the second half prompted a volatile mix of anger and confusion.The natives are restless and rightly so. Ten Hag is looking less like a saviour and more of an imposter. United are a dysfunctional mess and while Gary Neville continues to draw the analogy between ineffective parents and misbehaving children, the Glazers cannot be blamed indefinitely for the shambles on the pitch.You’ll win nothing with kids or grown-ups right now at Old Trafford.Talk of an identity crisis suggests there was an identity to warp in the first place. Ten Hag’s Red Devils are becoming the Kai Havertz of elite football; a club-wide example of those titillating philosophical questions. What are Manchester United? Who are Manchester United? What is their shape, purpose and objective? Anyone?If any of the answers include a back four of Victor Lindelof (at left-back), 35-year-old Jonny Evans, unwanted Harry Maguire and the irregular Diogo Dalot, then heaven knows what questions ten Hag is asking of himself and the dressing room.After Manchester City’s easy 3-0 victory at Old Trafford, Ten Hag insisted that the defensive line-up was “tactical” and therefore deliberate. It’s a baffling one to say the least. Just to recap, Sergio Reguilón, a career left-back, was benched. Lindelöf is not a left-back, a point he gamely proved, until he was finally withdrawn after 73 painful minutes. Meanwhile, Maguire was almost sold to West Ham United in the summer, making him the obvious choice to take care of Erling Haaland.But not to worry. Maguire’s partner was the experienced Evans – so experienced, in fact, that he last played in a Manchester derby in October 2011. United lost 6-1. Evans was sent off. Before this season, he was released by relegated Leicester City. United snapped him up, presumably because Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were unavailable.It’s hard not to ponder the words of Jose Mourinho, who claimed his second-placed finish at United in 2018 was his greatest coaching achievement. Or the indelible image of Louis van Gaal dumping the FA Cup on a table and effectively goading his critics. Did he not deliver the old tin pot? Were you not entertained?Apparently not. The football of both managers was considered regressive, out of step with a storied institution of such grandeur. Maybe so. But Mourinho and van Gaal had an obvious tactical plan, unpalatable for some, perhaps, but unmistakable nonetheless.Manchester United defender Harry Maguire walks off the pitch after losing to Manchester City in the English Premier League. (PHOTO: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)New signings have not improved Red DevilsAfter three transfer windows, Ten Hag cannot make a similar claim. The widespread booing wasn’t really about Højlund’s removal, it was a weary realisation that the current set-up isn’t going anywhere. The new recruits haven’t yet elevated the squad. Existing staff haven’t improved, a criticism frequently levelled at Old Gunnar Solskjaer. (Marcus Rashford was an invigorating presence last season, but has lost his way this time around.)Højlund’s lovely effervescence continues to be admired. He fizzes across the pitch in search of lost causes. But the wait for his first English Premier League goal goes on. The bigger question is, who is going to provide it? Antony? He didn’t make an appearance until the 88th minute. Mason Mount? He came on at half-time. Antony and Mount cost a combined £140 million and were not worth a starting place. Højlund cost £72 million.They are all ten Hag’s signings.Christian Eriksen chased after Bernardo Silva like an eager toddler going after a pigeon at a hawker centre. He never really got close. Alongside Eriksen, Sofyan Amrabat barely made it to half-time.They are both ten Hag’s signings.Of course, United’s deep-rooted boardroom concerns are beyond Ten Hag’s sphere of influence. Chalking up a 34th EPL defeat at Old Trafford in the 10 years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired – equalling the number suffered throughout the Ferguson era – is indicative of systemic failings at the club. The Glazers must shoulder much of the blame.But ten Hag has to own the five losses in 10 EPL games this season, a poorer record than all of his predecessors. Even the spluttering wins against Brentford, Sheffield United and Copenhagen were hardly examples of a phoenix rising.What a lopsided defeat in the Manchester derby really does is remove the smokescreen. For months, the Glazers provided one. They were the immovable bogeymen, the most obvious of unscrupulous targets. When supporters see the Glazers, they are reminded of what they once were.But when they see Manchester City, they are reminded of what they are now. A yard behind. In every sense. They toil aimlessly in the shadows of greatness. The gap has not been closed. Even the Glazers’ smokescreen gets shattered in a Manchester derby. There are no distant Americans to hide behind, no obscene debt to rail against. There are only winners. And losers.And it hurts. Brentford, Sheffield United and Copenhagen pay the bills, but they don’t sell the show. The Manchester derby is the show and ten Hag’s wobblers were shoved off stage with minimal fuss. It can be an historical turning point. David Moyes was on borrowed time after losing 3-0 to Manuel Pellegrini’s City in 2014. Solskjaer was a dead man walking after Pep Guardiola’s lot outclassed the hapless Red Devils in 2021.Ten Hag should not be sacked, but goodwill is a finite commodity. The reserves deplete rapidly after a Manchester derby defeat. His signings are not being regularly picked, his elder players are not progressing and the tactical plan remains anyone’s guess. Inertia reigns.If anything, the Old Trafford booing was a welcome reminder of where true power still resides, just about. If the booing persists, ten Hag has a serious problem. When the fans turn at Manchester United, the boardroom will inevitably act accordingly.If the booing persists, ten Hag has a serious problem. When the fans turn at Manchester United, the boardroom will inevitably act accordingly.Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.Follow the new EPL season with the “Footballing Weekly” show on YouTube, Spotify and Acast.For more football news, visit our Football page on Yahoo!You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. Also check out our Southeast Asia, Food, and Gaming channels on YouTube.Yahoo Singapore Telegram

- Advertisement -

Related Articles


Latest Articles