Maybe Ralph Rangnick was right after all.
Maybe Manchester United really do need the football equivalent of ‘open heart surgery’ to fix the glut of problems currently plaguing England’s biggest club.
That was the stark assessment delivered in April by Rangnick, United’s interim manager as he prepared to hand over the reins to Erik ten Haag ahead of this season.
And it took Ten Hoag just two painful Premier League games to realize the mess he had got himself into.
Underpowered and – in some cases – unmotivated players. Unbalanced, poorly assembled composition. An unstable recruiting team can’t attract their primary targets. American owners increasingly hate the fans.
Ten Hag, meanwhile, is adding to his own problems with some questionable decisions in his opening weeks in English football.
“Rubbish” was one of the words the Dutchman used to describe United’s dreadful performance in Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing of Brentford, which marked a new low point in the club’s recent history.
Moments after the final whistle at the Brentford Community Stadium, as jubilant home fans celebrated one of their team’s best ever results, Ten Haag was seen motionless on the touchline with both hands behind his back, unable to believe what had happened .
Ten Hag didn’t flinch when a cranky Cristiano Ronaldo walked past or when Brentford fans serenaded him with “You’ll be sacked in the morning”.
Sunday was supposed to be a day off for United’s players, but Ten Haag insisted they come to training, with British broadcaster Sky Sports reporting that the manager wanted his players to run 13.8 kilometers, the difference in total distance that two teams ran during Saturday’s match.
It’s still very early days in the Ten Haag era, but problems are mounting, some of which are the Dutchman’s fault.
Why, for example, was Christian Eriksen – a playmaking midfielder – deployed as a ‘false nine’ in the 2-1 home loss to Brighton on the opening weekend and then as a deep-lying midfielder against Brentford?
Was Lisandro Martinez, a diminutive centre-back in today’s terms, the smartest purchase for nearly $58 million given the Premier League’s notorious physicality? After being exposed against Brentford, he did not start the second half.
Why is Harry Maguire, who clearly lacks confidence on the pitch, still captaining United when he shouldn’t be assured of a starting place?
Again, Ten Hag was not helped by those above him. How did United enter the new season without a new holding midfielder, a position the team has desperately needed to improve over the years? United look set to miss out on Frankie de Jong despite their pursuit of the Barcelona midfielder over the summer and still have to rely on Fred and Scott McTominay who are out of action.
Indeed, the entire squad needs an upgrade, especially in attack with uncertainty still swirling around Ronaldo, who sought to leave in the off-season and, despite his renowned goalscoring prowess, lacks the mobility to satisfy a typical Ten Hag- managed team.
With Anthony Martial out injured, Ronaldo is United’s only striker and played the whole game against Brentford, even if he was not sharp. Remarkably, he left the field without even glancing at Ten Haag.
Also of note, United fans held up some banners in Brentford on Saturday calling for the Glazer family, who own the club, to leave. “Time 2 Go. Glazers away,” read one, and the atmosphere promises to be toxic when United return to Old Trafford next week for their third match of the season.
It’s Monday against fierce rivals Liverpool, who scored nine goals against United in two games last season in humiliatingly one-sided encounters. The previous season, a protest against the Glazer family forced the unprecedented postponement of a Premier League game against Liverpool at Old Trafford after the stadium was stormed and thousands of other fans blocked access to the ground, demanding that the Americans – buyers in 2005 in a leveraged takeover — to sell the club.
Defeat against Liverpool would see United open the season with three successive defeats. The last Ajax manager to join the Premier League side was Frank De Boer, who lost his first four matches in charge at Crystal Palace and was promptly sacked after the team struggled to adapt to him tactics and requirements.
I’m afraid Ten Hag just don’t have the players to match his style. Or, as in the case of Martinez, he has the wrong player in a crucial position.
Can United hang on if the losing streak continues? Ten Hag certainly deserves time, but the early signs are that the club is already in crisis.
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