What’s gone wrong for Erik ten Hag at Man Utd?
London (AFP) – Manchester United is currently facing a critical situation as they desperately need a win against FC Copenhagen in the Champions League on Wednesday in order to avoid an embarrassing group-stage exit.
In their previous encounter with Copenhagen at Old Trafford, the three-time European champions narrowly secured a 1-0 victory thanks to an impressive last-gasp penalty save by goalkeeper Andre Onana.
However, heavy defeats against Manchester City and Newcastle have intensified the pressure on manager Erik ten Hag, although it was somewhat alleviated by a 1-0 win over Fulham last Saturday.
At present, United stands third in Group A, trailing six points behind leaders Bayern Munich and one point behind Galatasaray. If United fails to secure a victory in Copenhagen, it could put Galatasaray in a position to knock them out when the teams meet in Istanbul on November 29.
AFP Sport takes a closer look at what have been the challenges for Erik ten Hag in his second season at Old Trafford.
The Glazer family’s management of the club has been a constant source of frustration for United fans. However, Erik ten Hag has still been able to benefit from a significant transfer budget.
With over £400 million ($497 million) spent in the last three transfer windows, the results have been less than satisfactory. Former Ajax winger Antony, acquired for a substantial fee of £86 million, has struggled to make an impact, scoring just eight goals in 55 appearances.
Similarly, Mason Mount, who moved from Chelsea for £55 million, has found himself on the bench in recent weeks and is yet to score for his new club.
Onana’s penalty save against Copenhagen served as redemption for his costly errors against Bayern and Galatasaray, which resulted in United losing their first two group matches in a Champions League campaign.
Critics have alleged that Ten Hag has relied too heavily on the Dutch market, which he is familiar with. Eight of his signings have previous experience playing in the Eredivisie, but many of them have struggled to meet the demands of playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs in the Premier League.
A frequently voiced criticism against Ten Hag is his failure to establish a distinct identity and style of play, even after almost 18 months in charge. However, he has faced challenges due to injuries sustained by key players.
In his first season in charge, United performed admirably by ending a six-year trophy drought and securing a third-place finish in the Premier League.
This season, long-term absences of Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, and Lisandro Martinez, as well as injuries to Raphael Varane and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, have stretched the defensive resources of the team to their limits.
Moreover, midfielder Casemiro has been ruled out for “several weeks” due to a hamstring injury, further complicating matters for Ten Hag. Veteran center-back Jonny Evans, who returned to the club as defensive cover, believes the absence of numerous players has unsettled the squad.
Evans stated, “I think the manager has had difficulties having to work on the team, tactics, and having to change personnel quite frequently with only two days between games.”
This season, Manchester United’s high-profile players have struggled to perform, with Marcus Rashford, Casemiro, and Bruno Fernandes failing to meet expectations.
Rashford’s decline has been particularly noticeable, as he has managed to score just one goal in 14 matches. This is a stark contrast to last season when he reached new heights and scored 30 goals for the club.
Ten Hag has expressed that Rashford is “very motivated to put things right,” but his main player needs to regain his form quickly.
Similarly, Brazilian international midfielder Casemiro, at 31 years old, has been unable to match the high standards he set during his impressive first season at United. While he is currently the team’s top scorer, with four goals in all competitions, he has struggled with the defensive aspect of his game, leaving the vulnerable defense even more exposed.
Portugal midfielder Fernandes has frequently appeared frustrated on the field and has not been a consistent creative force for a team that has only managed to score 12 goals in 11 Premier League games this season.
Ten Hag will be hopeful that Fernandes’ late winner against Fulham on Saturday will ignite a revival for the player, whom he appointed captain in July.