Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Three ways Ten Hag can miraculously avoid Man Utd sack, as Ratcliffe prepares to swing the axe

Ryan Baldi
Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag, co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe

Erik ten Hag can save his job by implementing the following three changes

With the future of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United coming under a dark cloud, we have detailed three ways in which the under-fire Dutchman can stave off the sack.

This weekend’s Manchester derby could hardly have come at a worse time for Erik ten Hag. In the wake of Sir Jim Radcliffe’s partial takeover and assumption of sporting control, the Manchester United manager’s position is under threat.

Indeed, TEAMtalk exclusively learned on Friday afternoon that the Dutchman is already viewed as a ‘dead man walking’ by some within Old Trafford.

And over the past week, United were roundly outplayed in a home defeat to Fulham, while Ten Hag bit back at criticism of his coaching in the media.

United responded with a midweek victory over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, but Casemiro’s last-gasp winner could not disguise another sub-par performance.

So as the pressure mounts, what must Ten Hag do in what remains of the 2023-24 season to save his job – assuming it’s not already too late, of course.

Shore up the midfield

“Some analysts are very objective in their comments, very good advice, some are very subjective,” Ten Hag said in response to Jamie Carragher’s analysis of United’s midfield deficiencies on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.

“Jamie Carragher, from the first moment on, has criticised and now he wants to make his point.”

The Dutch tactician might believe that Carragher’s perspective is skewed by his connections to Liverpool, but any United fan who’s watched the Red Devils closely this season will recognise the truth in the pundit’s breakdown.

Carragher highlighted the vast gaps that opened up within United’s midfield during last weekend’s loss to Fulham at Old Trafford, suggesting that the space between their deep-set defence and high-pressing front-line left them exposed in the middle third.

This is not a new issue. Dating right back to United’s season opener – a narrow and fortunate 1-0 win over Wolves – Ten Hag’s side have regularly been overrun in midfield.

In turn, it leaves United exposed at the back, as evidenced by the fact they have the fourth-worst record in the Premier League this season for shots conceded, with 16 per game.

Man City, by contrast, allow just eight opposition shots per game. United rank 13th in the league for expected goals against, too, with their total of 45.34 more than double Arsenal’s 21.46.

The Fulham defeat was United’s first since December, ending a run of six wins from seven fixtures in all competitions.

Their improved results so far this year will not be sustainable if they continue to allow opponents to cut through them at such a rate.

Show flexibility

Defenders of Ten Hag point to how his squad has been ravaged by injuries this season, precluding the former Ajax boss from fielding his best line-up.

That certainly is true. United (29) have suffered the second-most injury absences in the Premier League this season, behind only Newcastle (31).

Ten Hag has, at various points, been without key players such as Casemiro, Mason Mount, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw and Rasmus Hojlund for extended periods.

This is cited as a reason why United have struggled to show a discernible style of play, one of the most common criticisms of Ten Hag from detractors.

The absence of Martinez – who recently returned from one lengthy layoff only to suffer another long-term injury – has prevented Ten Hag from fielding a left-footer at left centre-back, for example, while also hampering United’s ability to play out from the back.

The cobbled-together nature of United’s line-ups is presumably a key factor in the previously outlined issue of their midfield lacking structure.

But injuries are a fact of life in football. While it is rare for a team to have suffered as many injuries as United have had to contend with this season, a clean bill of health is rarer still.

The absence of key players does not fully excuse United’s level of play. There has to be a middle ground between the perfect execution of Ten Hag’s vision with a full complement of stars and the abject performances and lack of structure when players are missing.

For the sake of his job, Ten Hag has to show some adaptability. Perfection mustn’t become the enemy of progress.

Get a tune out of his signings

Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag

Another hot topic in the wake of the Fulham defeat was the fact that Antony, United’s £85 million winger, was not brought off the bench until the 99th minute.

In 20 Premier League appearances so far this season, the 24-year-old Brazilian has not scored or assisted.

“On Antony, I backed him for a long time,” Ten Hag said post-match. “I know his abilities. I know from the past he is unstoppable. He’s one of the quickest in the first 10 yards.

“He is resilient, he’s a character and he will fight back and I back him.”

More than just back him, it’s time for Ten Hag to show that he can get a tune out of Antony, who is on course to be remembered as one of the worst signings the club has ever made.

What’s most worrying for the manager is that Antony was one of his hand-picked acquisitions, too, having previously worked with the wide man at Ajax.

Ten Hag’s record in the transfer market – where, by all accounts, he has taken the lead in recruiting United’s key signings since his appointment in 2022 – is hit and miss at best.

Hojlund’s recent form prior to his latest injury has quietened doubters and Martinez, although injury prone, has been a success.

But the likes of Andre Onana, Antony, Tyrell Malacia, loan signing Sofyan Amrabat and the ever-injured Mason Mount – all of whom previously either played for or against Ten Hag in Holland – have all struggled to make a positive impact at Old Trafford.

It is critical for Ten Hag to show that the vast majority of the money he has spent has not been wasted.

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