What Can Erik ten Hag Bring To Man United?
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Erik ten Hag will bid to finally restore Man United to their former glory when he takes the reins at the stricken club this summer. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick have all failed in their attempts to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson’s success over the past nine years.
The Red Devils are now arguably in worse shape than they have been at any other time in the post-Fergie era. They have endured a disastrous campaign, which left them well behind Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal in the standings.
Fresh blood is clearly needed, and the board has tasked ten Hag with ushering in a brighter new era. What exactly will the Dutchman bring to the role?
Disciplined Man Management
Discipline is a scarce commodity in the Man Utd squad these days. Composure, organization and determination are often in scant supply too. We regularly hear former players like Gary Neville and Roy Keane slamming the current crop for losing their heads, failing to display any passion and wilting under pressure, even in games they were heavy favorites to win in the spread betting.
The arrival of ten Hag could improve the collective mentality in the squad. He is renowned as a strict disciplinarian. During his first role as a youth coach, he shortened his students’ holidays and punished anyone that arrived back late.
The Dutchman also has a reputation as an obsessive control freak. He studies upcoming opponents to the nth degree and continually barrages his players with tips, video clips and insight to help them prepare. Any players that have been coasting under previous coaches are in for a rude awakening. If they rebel, they are likely to be given short shrift.
The Ability to Develop Youngsters
Ten Hag has always had a knack for helping young, precocious players reach their full potential. He played a crucial role in developing 20-year-old Quincy Promes during his first managerial role, helping the young forward bang in 17 goals during his first full season.
At Ajax, he was responsible for helping the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech and Ryan Gravenberch flourish. The club has always been famed for its youth academy and its willingness to put a lot of faith in youngsters, but few Ajax coaches have unearthed and developed budding superstars quite like ten Hag.
That could spell good news for players such as Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga. Ten Hag likes quick, creative wingers with an eye for goal, and they fit the bill. It could also be a major boost for van de Beek, who has struggled for playing time during his career at Old Trafford thus far, while Ten Hag may be in the transfer market for some of his former stars, such as de Ligt, now that he is at a club with financial muscle.
Ten Hag initially tried to implement the 4-3-3 formation that had served him well at Utrecht when he took the reins at Ajax. It did not quite work out, so he switched to a 4-2-3-1, and that worked very well indeed.
The double-pivot in midfield, featuring de Jong and Lass Schone, was a hallmark of Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019. During the 2021-22 campaign, the team reverted to a 4-3-3 after the arrival of Sebastian Haller gave them a focal point in attack. We can expect ten Hag to tweak his Man United formation until he settles on a plan that works.
He is also fond of playing his men out of position to fit as much attacking quality into the team as possible. We have seen Dušan Tadić deployed on either wing and as a central striker, while Ziyech players on the wing, in central midfield and as a number 10. We could see some interesting tinkering in the opening stages of the 2022-23 season, which may initially make life difficult for opposition coaches.
A High Press
Man City and Liverpool have left Man United in the rear-view mirror over the past few years. That can partly be attributed to the way in which both teams press, which is increasingly vital in the modern game.
Evidence has shown that Man United struggles to consistently press the opposition in big games. It could be that they lack the energy, or they are simply disorganized. The arrival of ten Hag should help.
Ajax has been pressing their opponents aggressively during his tenure at the club, and Man United’s fortunes could be transformed if they follow suit under ten Hag’s watch.
Solskjaer often sounded like a broken record when he said he wanted to see his team “playing on the front foot”. It followed Mourinho’s reign, in which the Red Devils abandoned the free-flowing football and attacking instincts that Ferguson instilled and set about grinding out low-scoring wins and draws instead.
Playing on the front foot did not really work out for Solskjaer’s Man United, as they were too often poor at the back and they conceded far too many goals. Ten Hag must try to implement the attacking fluidity that Ajax have displayed – they scored 22 times in just eight Champions League games this season – while keeping things tight at the back, and using his famous man-management skills to get the best out of Raphaël Varane and Harry Maguire.
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