Another heavy loss at Old Trafford could have significant ramifications and the manager may have to sacrifice ideals
Despite losing their first two Premier League games, Erik ten Hag is optimistic in his ability to change Manchester United’s fortunes. Unfortunately, the 4-0 loss to Brentford demonstrated that the team’s players are unable to successfully apply his system, which has caused morale at Old Trafford to plummet.
It is wonderful that Ten Hag wants to use the same strategy that has been successful for him in the past to make enormous long-term progress at United, but with a match against Liverpool on Monday, another devastating loss might have serious consequences. Football players find it challenging even in the best of circumstances to adapt to a new set of tactical and stylistic guidelines. It is nearly impossible to do when lacking in confidence.
Ten Hag will need to play to United’s advantages in the near future if he hopes to have a significant impact on the team. A team that is buckling under the weight of having Manchester United players and being stuck at the bottom of the Premier League standings could benefit from a practical approach. When Casemiro is available, the group should benefit from his expertise and football acumen, but it is not advisable to overwhelm individuals who lack confidence with complex ideas.
Those who have played under Ten Hag claim that it takes some getting adjusted to his techniques. United supporters are currently behind him because they understand the scope of the undertaking, but if the first few months go on as planned as the Dutchman waits for everything to fall into place, he may not be given enough time to make up for years of wrongdoing at United.
Liverpool will be quite confident in doing the same with interest if Brentford can dissect United. The team led by Jürgen Klopp will be trying to make a statement against a team that has suffered two losses after drawing their opening two games.
Although Scott McTominay and Fred are not the long-term answer to United’s midfield issues, Ten Hag must make due with what is at hand versus Liverpool right now. Neither can deliver accurate passes or speedy movement up the field. Casemiro might need a partner, and Ten Hag might wish to put himself to the test by teaching the team to play in a manner resembling his. But rather from attempting to fix their inherent defects, he might need to play to their strengths.
Despite being taken off at Brentford after 45 minutes, Lisandro Martnez appears capable of handling the ball and intelligent enough to adjust to the direct style of play in the Premier League. In the coming weeks, Martnez may be used with Casemiro in midfield.
Stefan Savic struggled in the air and was bullied by multiple strikers when he first joined Manchester City, which rendered him helpless on the field. When lacking confidence, Roberto Mancini insisted on placing him on the firing line despite his shortcomings. His career in the City never recovered. However, the Montenegrin went on to have a successful career with Fiorentina and Atlético Madrid, where he was handled with more compassion and given room to develop. Regardless of the opponent, Martnez will be targeted in the air, therefore it would be a good idea to change positions for the time being in order to prevent permanent harm.
A team may need to take a step backward in order to advance. United was positioned to counterattack under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, understanding their limits. Although United shouldn’t be overly fixated on the latter, defences win trophies, not offences. It will increase confidence if they can put together a stronger defence for Liverpool’s visit, or at the very least one that does not allow four goals in 25 minutes, especially with the hardy Casemiro to be added later. At Brentford, they were disorganised and playing out from the back with a goalie who couldn’t give the necessary distribution.
This United team cannot afford the luxury of having Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes both on the field at the same time. They are both good players, but Ten Hag could have to choose between them in order to maintain stability. United cannot survive on skill alone on the field against teams like Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea because of how ineffectively they have controlled possession against teams like Brighton and Brentford.
Wilfried Zaha easily sailed through a gap to score for Crystal Palace, demonstrating Liverpool’s susceptibility to the counterattack. United may take advantage of this weakness. If United chooses to take a more direct approach, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, and Anthony Elanga should be able to cause any side issues down the wings. They offer constant pressing, which Cristiano Ronaldo cannot. His legendary status is beyond question, but in a faltering United team, his failure to exert pressure on defenders for the whole 90 minutes suggests that a difficult decision may need to be made.
The players that Ten Hag needs to stop United’s recent downward spiral have not yet been provided to him. It may be a case of “better the Red Devils you know” because the team is quite similar to the one that struggled to finish sixth last season and appears unable to quickly adopt the strategies Ten Hag is trying to instil. Intriguing is the scattergun strategy used in transfers to placate Ten Hag. When the objectives’ contributions to a team are drastically diverse, planning is difficult. There is no doubt that Casemiro and Adrien Rabiot are two very different players. Few can predict the composition of the team with less than two weeks left in the transfer window.
Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, two 25-year-olds who are aware of what it takes to win the Premier League, have joined Mikel Arteta’s team. United will be hoping Casemiro has a comparable effect. United must recognise that they are in the same position as Arsenal and that making rash purchases now may not help them in the long run. It has taken Arsenal several transfer windows to assemble the team they desire.
Ten Hag realises that the best course of action is to make short-term adjustments to get United back to a place where they can start from, but doing so will mean compromising his values. He is straightforward and to the point in person, so it might be best if his staff is as well—at least for the time being.
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