Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Ten Hag sack: Man Utd ‘approach’ Brazil-born coach as major five-year criticism of Dutchman emerges

Erik ten Hag could be replaced as Manchester United manager by Bologna coach Thiago Motta

Erik ten Hag could be replaced as Manchester United manager by Bologna coach Thiago Motta

Speculation that Erik ten Hag is facing the Manchester United sack continue to gather pace amid reports in Italy claimed a shock approach for a surprise successor had been made, while criticism of the Dutchman’s playing style from Ruud Gullit five years ago have raised serious alarm bells.

The Dutchman made a big impression during his first season at the helm, leading Manchester United to a third placed finish in the Premier League as well as securing two cup final appearances, with success coming in the Carabao Cup. But his second year at the helm has not gone according to plan, with United slipping down the table and seemingly in with little chance of returning to the Champions League again next season.

As it stands, they are a distant 11 points adrift of the top four as it stands, having already lost an alarming 12 times in the Premier League this season. An embarrassing UCL campaign has not helped matters, with United finishing bottom of Group A after losing four of their six games.

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And while they could reach a second successive FA Cup final, Ten Hag’s prospects of keeping his job seemingly remain in some jeopardy amid claims that new minority shareholder Sir Jim Ratcliffe is considering his position carefully.

Indeed, our exclusive last month broke the news that a number of leading figures at Old Trafford expect Ten Hag to be relieved of his duties over the summer.

In the days that followed, both the Daily Mail and the Manchester Evening News produced copycat reports, albeit the latter having to tread extremely carefully around the subject given their close relationship with the club.

Ten Hag sack: Man Utd tactics slammed

And those claims appear to have reached fever pitch in the wake of Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Although United hit back from a goal behind to take the lead in the match – and may have even taken all three but for the concession of a late penalty – it was the manner of the tactics on display that caused serious alarm bells to ring.

Indeed, United allowed Liverpool 15 shots at their goal in an alarming first half, with the Reds ultimately conceding an incredible 90 shots in their three games against the Merseysiders this season.

That statistic also followed the concession of 28 shots on their goal against Chelsea in midweek, and with their midfield seen as being far too open, Gary Neville quickly took umbrage with Kobbie Mainoo for his high positioning when Liverpool were on the attack.

That left their central midfield badly open and exposed to Liverpool breaks time and again and, but for better finishing from Liverpool forwards, could have put the game beyond United’s reach.

Rio Ferdinand also weighed in for what he felt was ‘kamikaze football’, with speculation also suggesting the performance has now convinced Ratcliffe that a change of management may be needed for the good of the club.

Man Utd struggles were in evidence at Ajax years earlier

Now some historical comments made about Ten Hag’s lack of tactical awareness by Ruud Gullit have emerged – and it seems the same problem of gaping holes in his midfield has dogged the Dutchman form quite some time.

Speaking back in 2019 when Ten Hag was in charge of Ajax, Gullit told Ziggo Sports that the Dutch giants were way too open in midfield.

“The annoying part about Ajax,” the Dutch legend began, “especially in transition, I’ve seen it against Bayern Munich, I’ve already seen it many times before, at the moment they’re taking a lot of risks.

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“Especially in midfield and all of a sudden you get ridiculous counters. If it gets intercepted, they can just run all the way through.

“You think, ‘you’re taking so much risk’, because you want to press. But then [the opposition] can also run straight through the midfield.

“There has to be one player in the middle who thinks ‘what if?’. Yeah, he always secures the midfield [Man City’s Fernandinho]. Frenkie de Jong is playing well but you still need someone next to him.”

To this, Ten Hag responded: “The way we play, those are the risks we have already calculated, and I agree with you, you have to be positioned correctly.”

Ten Hag faced a similar criticism earlier this season with Casemiro caught high up the field.

“No that can never happen”, Ten Hag explained about both holding midfielders being too high up the pitch.

But he also insists that ball retention is also a massive part of how he wants his side to play, and when they lose possession, that’s when things get unpicked.

“Well if you lose the ball there [first phase of play], every team gets killed.”

Next Man Utd manager: Approach for Thiago Motta made

With the pressure building on Ten Hag’s shoulders, a report on Monday suggested Ratcliffe had drawn up a two-man shortlist for the job, with both Gareth Southgate and Julian Nagelsmann on his wishlist.

However, neither coach can take charge until after their respective European Championship campaigns are over this summer, leaving Ratcliffe with something of a delay to both planning for next season and with regards potential transfer targets.

As an alternative, reports in Italy now state the club has a growing admiration for Bologna coach Thiago Motta, who has worked wonders for the Serie A side as they hunt down a place in next season’s Champions League.

As a result, the Brazil-born coach’s stock has risen dramatically and he has been mentioned as a potential option for both the Liverpool and Barcelona vacancies this summer.

However, Italian publication La Repubblica claims officials from United have put in a request to Bologna asking for information about Motta and what it would take to prise him away from the Serie A side.

His current deal expires at the end of the current season, and with Juventus also reportedly sounding him out as a replacement for Massimiliano Allegri, United have now been tipped as potential rivals for his signature.

The Red Devils could offer a greater salary than that on offer at Juve, though whether that would be enough to tempt him into the move remains to be seen.

Bologna owner  Joey Saputo had offered Motta a deal to 2026, but with a series of top clubs on his trail, those talks are thought to have broken down and it is now accepted that the 41-year-old will move on.

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