Paul Merson has piled the pressure on Erik ten Hag amid growing talk he may soon be in danger of the sack after destroying their performances this season and claiming a number of players “don’t know what they’re doing” under his coaching.
The Red Devils boss is facing what surely looks like two dare-not-lose matches this week as he tries to generate a response from his struggling side. Facing Galatasaray on Tuesday in the Champions League and then a home date with Brentford on Saturday gives United a good chance to get their season back on track.
Manchester United made serious strides under Ten Hag’s guidance in his first season at the helm. Helping the club finish third in the Premier League, and in winning the Carabao Cup, hope burned bright that the 2023/24 season would prove their best in years; possibly even resulting in a title challenge.
However, with the club down in 10th place and in the midst of their worst start to a campaign in 34 years, plenty of observers feel their title hopes are already over.
Furthermore, with talk cranking up that Ten Hag may soon face calls over his job at Old Trafford, he now goes in to a pressure-cooker of a week needing some positive results to lift the gloom around the club.
With five defeats to their name from nine games already, #TenHagOut has recently started trending on social media. And after already suffering a loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the Red Devils would benefit hugely from a win over the Turkish champions on Tuesday evening.
Paul Merson tears into Man Utd tactics under Ten Hag
However, after surveying the wreckage of their dismal 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace at the weekend, Sky Sports pundit Merson feels United have gone backwards under the Dutchman this season.
He said: “I feel like when you’re watching Man Utd, it’s like watching Subbuteo. You blow the whistle to kick-off and at half-time, everyone is in exactly the same position as they were when they started the game. There’s no movement.
“When you manage big football clubs, you’re under pressure and you’re under more pressure when the neighbours win. If they [Man City] had won [on Saturday], then it really cranks up… it’s a must for them to get into the top four this season.”
He continued: “You watch Man Utd play and you just don’t see the pattern of play. It’s like if it comes off, it comes off. You watch Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City play, they have patterns of play. Someone will go in and come back out, but at Man Utd, it’s get the ball out wide and hope that [Marcus] Rashford does something and if he does, we might score a goal.
“[Sofyan] Amrabat was wasted out on the left in the end, he did come into the middle in the end but he should start off there. They need to dominate. It’s too slow at Man Utd, they let teams get into the game, let teams settle, but they’ve got to go for them in the first 20 minutes. There’s nothing like that.
“Disappointing and they didn’t make loads of chances. They were lost for ideas for a lot of the game.”
Merson feels Man Utd midfield trio don’t know what they’re doing
In addition, Merson feels United’s struggles stem from their inability to control matches from the midfield. Reflecting on Saturday’s home defeat to the Eagles, he picked out their midfield three of Casemiro, Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes for looking a little lost as a trio.
He added: “[Rasmus] Hojlund is playing up front on his own and you don’t know if the wingers are going to cross it or not. It’s hard for him. He doesn’t get a lot of service. Mount, Casemiro and Fernandes don’t really know where they’re going or where they’re playing.
“It’s a big worry for Man Utd at the moment and another defeat. They’re a million miles off.
“I don’t see them turning it around at the moment. It might get to a situation where he might have to change the shape. He has a four at the back, he might need to go to a three just to mix it up.
“I just find that Mount and Fernandes look a bit lost and don’t know where they’ve got to go. They’re getting dominated and passed around. They put pressure on Palace, but [Sam] Johnstone didn’t have loads of saves to make.”
After Saturday’s match at Brentford, United face another key Premier League clash at struggling Sheffield United before taking on FC Copenhagen in the Champions League. They conclude the month of October with a crunch clash against reigning champions and current league leaders Manchester City on October 29.