Erik ten Hag was dealt a tough hand, now he needs to show he can adapt

At the 19th minute on Saturday, Brentford fans leave Manchester United to see her.

“You go down with Fulham,” sang the west Londoners’ chant, the kind of giddy two-for-one celebration that can only happen when your already good side are showcased by the opposition’s incompetence.

A minute later they turned their attention to new United manager Erik ten Hag. “You’re getting fired tomorrow morning!” Trashed in the moooooorning! You’re getting fired tomorrow morning!

United are two games away from the 2022-23 season and the goodwill Ten Hag enjoyed during pre-season is fading. The 52-year-old cut a desperate figure in Saturday’s game, prompting comparisons to the calamitous five-game spell of fellow Dutchman Frank de Boer in charge of crystal palace at the start of the 2017-18 season.

United were dismal against Brentford, Ten Hag’s tactical plan to play from the back seemed naive against Thomas Frank’s streetwise side.

After the 4-0 loss, Ten Hag said: “It had nothing to do with tactics. The first two objectives relate to ball management and decisions. But the sight of Ivan Toney standing next to Lisandro Martinezthe 5ft 9in (175cm) centre-half signed in the summer for £47m ($57m), pointing skyward on a goal kick should have been cause for concern.

Brentford are known for being a physical side, known for their long direct passes and an impressive collection of set-piece routines.

When they defeated his chelsea side 4-1 last season, Thomas Tuchel said he included a 6ft 3in midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek in its formation in an attempt to counter the planned aerial bombardment.

Knowing how to beat Brentford in the air is one thing. Doing so is another. In the 94 minutes here, United have been puzzled on both counts.

Consecutive defeats against Brighton and Brentford – their next appointment is to visit liverpool on Monday, August 22 — left United at the bottom of the table (Manchester City are in the lead) and Ten Hag in a difficult position. Is the former Ajax head coach another De Boer, unprepared for the difficulty of moving from the Eredivisie to the premier league? Or is there something more at stake?

The Dutchman was appointed United manager on April 21.

Fifteen weeks ago it became known that Frenkie de Jong was his No. 1 target in the transfer market.

Beginning of July, his main striker Cristiano Ronaldo has informed the club that he will not be traveling on a pre-season tour and, days before the start of this season, it was announced his other senior striker, Anthony Martial, injured his hamstrings.

United have had weeks to equip their new manager with the proper tools, but he is now placing square pegs in round holes.


The goodwill gained through an encouraging pre-season is fading away (Photo: Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

In the past seven days alone, Ten Hag has been quick to Marko Arnautovic, only to perform an about-face, and had been asked about the future of one of his wingers, Marcus Rashfordwho seems open to a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

United have appointed a very good tactical coach, but Ten Hag is besieged by issues that sabotage what he can do on the training ground. What he is capable of coaching the team to do is run into trouble in competitive matches, as United players seem to be afflicted with a sporting form of learned helplessness.

Weird individual errors keep happening. These events then lead to a negative spiral where players lose confidence and believe the situation is hopeless.

“You can have a good plan but we had to put the plan in the trash,” Ten Hag also said after the game, but he should be aware that his plan gave a number of players confidence in unfamiliar situations and uncomfortable. for them.

Any Manchester United starting goalkeeper should perform better than David De Gea did it on Saturday, as did the captain of his club, Harry Maguire, but to quote Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis, a successful strategy is “the alignment of potentially limitless aspirations with limited necessary capabilities”. Ten Hag received a tough hand, but he also plays it suboptimally.

The United manager has said he believes this team is capable of playing the style of football he wants, but he will need United to take smarter moves in the transfer market to deliver on his deepest plans. immediate.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement after the club’s last win in 2012-13, every permanent United manager has felt like a response to the failures of his predecessor, regardless of what made each successful. them in previous clubs.

Substandard short-term solutions and confusing medium-term decisions have led to long-term malaise. Corners have been cut to such an extent that United fans are left with an unsatisfactory small circle; a feedback loop of mediocrity and chaos.

Ten Hag has a sharp tactical mind but risks becoming esoteric if he continues to pursue this style of play with this starting XI.

It is not enough for United to ‘support the manager’ with gross funding and try, with varying degrees of success, to bring in all the players they want. He must also be supported by surrounding him with footballing spirits that can cover any weakness, bolster his strengths and act as a proper sounding board in difficult times.

Two games shouldn’t ruin a season, but to quote Gaddis again, “Assuming stability is one of the ways ruins are created. Resilience adapts to the unexpected.

United are a team devoid of resilience on the pitch and an institution plagued by dysfunction outside of it.

(Top photo: Getty Images)

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