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How does Ten Hag shake Man Utd out of current predicament?

Posted on December 05, 2023

Believe it or not, only Arsenal (16) have collected more Premier League points than Manchester United (15) since the beginning of October.

There are a few reasons why it does not feel that way. First, United have simultaneously struggled in other competitions. They were dumped out of the EFL Cup by Newcastle United and are bottom of their Champions League group with just one round of fixtures remaining.

Second, United’s performances have been worse than their results. Erik ten Hag’s team have won only one top-flight game by more than a one-goal margin this term. They only just edged out the likes of Burnley, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Luton Town.

Finally, and most damningly, is the fact United have continually come up short in the big games. On Saturday they faced a top-half team for the fifth time this term. A 1-0 loss to Newcastle means they have been defeated in each of those contests.

United are a team that falls to this occasion. Tottenham, Arsenal, Brighton, Manchester City and Newcastle have all beaten them comfortably in the last few months. United’s attitude is not so much "never say die" as "at least make it quick".

Their record in such matches away from home is particularly pitiful. Under Erik ten Hag, United have had 11 trips to teams that finished in the top nine last season. From a possible 33 points, they have picked up just one. The aggregate scoreline from those encounters is 34-9 in their opponents’ favour.

The alarming thing is that it seemed as if United were finally moving in the right direction in 2022/23. A third-place finish and an EFL Cup triumph represented a solid maiden campaign for Ten Hag, who then strengthened the spine of his squad over the summer. Yet United currently look worse than they ever have under the Dutchman, who is beginning to come under serious pressure.

Whichever way you look at it, United have been miserable so far this season. If anything they are fortunate to be seventh in the standings. They rank only 12th for goals scored, having put the ball in the back of the net just 16 times - the same number as Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, and just once more than Burnley.

Summer signing Rasmus Hojlund is still waiting for his first Premier League goal. Marcus Rashford is out of sorts and is not even compensating for his poor form with a strong work ethic. It is an indictment that United are still hoping Anthony Martial might be the answer eight years on from his arrival at Old Trafford.

United’s headline defensive record looks better: only four teams have let in fewer goals in the Premier League, this despite Ten Hag’s team conceding plenty of chances. Only six sides have worse expected goals against records. Meanwhile the concession of 15.3 shots per game ranks United above only West Ham United, Bournemouth, Luton and Sheffield United.

Aside from disappointing results, the principal problem for Ten Hag is that it is impossible to work out what his team is trying to do. It is difficult to get the buy-in of fans when you are not selling anything.

United have no discernible on-field identity. There is an absence of consistent patterns of play. When you watch them play, it is impossible to work out what they have been doing on the training pitch in the preceding days.

That is a major issue for Ten Hag, especially as managers like Ange Postecoglou and Unai Emery succeeded in inculcating a defined style of play within a few months of assuming control of their respective clubs.

Yet despite all that, there is no indication that firing Ten Hag would make things any better at Old Trafford. That is the problem when a malaise completely engulfs a club. Manchester United are stuck in a rut. There is no easy way out.