Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Ten Hag decision puzzles Hargreaves as Man Utd struggle to emulate tactic Man City have mastered

Erik ten Hag, Man Utd manager, during pre-season friendly - Manchester United v Rayo Vallecano - Old Trafford

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag

Manchester United are beginning to mimic a tactic that their rivals Manchester City have been pioneering, Owen Hargreaves has noticed.

His observation came after the first half of their Europa League game against Omonia Nicosia on Thursday night. The match was goalless at the interval. It eventually finished as a 1-0 win for Erik ten Hag’s side after a late goal by Scott McTominay.

It was a reminder that Manchester United are still a work in progress under Ten Hag, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.

Over time, they will be finetuning their ideas. It is, after all, a new era since Ten Hag took charge in the summer.

His principles are starting to show through, as former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves noticed in the first half against Omonia.

Specifically, Ten Hag has begun to deploy his full-backs more centrally when they go forward. It is something that Pep Guardiola has already been doing on the other side of the Manchester divide with City.

Hargreaves told BT Sport: “Yeah, we haven’t really seen that, I think he’s done it previously at Ajax, but the full-backs are coming inside.

“You see [Diogo] Dalot in there, I mean obviously we’ve seen this from Pep and his teams, but they’re doing this today United.

“It’s not just Dalot, by the way, it was a great pass from [Tyrell] Malacia, he’s always in the centre of midfield. He gets inside there, eventually goes back to his natural position outside.

“But he’s looking obviously to overload it inside so they can get a numerical advantage.

“So far it hasn’t really come off, but it’s noticeable.”

Ten Hag tactics starting to show

Dalot and Malacia have been getting a lot of gametime on the defensive flanks under Ten Hag so far. Also in contention to play in their positions are Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw.

They will all have to keep learning what Ten Hag wants them to do as long as they are part of his squad.

On this occasion, they showed they were still in that process. But there have been some promising signs that Ten Hag could be implementing his tactics more thoroughly.

In turn, Manchester United will become a team more in his identity. That sense of direction – whether the tactics are right or wrong – is what they have been lacking under other regimes in the recent past.

Manchester United’s next opportunity to put their skills to the test will be on Sunday. They are due to host Newcastle United in a Premier League fixture.

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