What has gone wrong for Erik Ten Hag's Manchester United this season?

Published on 7 November 2023 at 13:00

Manchester United have endured their worst start to a top flight campaign since 1962, losing more than half of the club's first 15 games this season in all competitions. The euphoria hailing Erik Ten Hag as a saviour just 10 months ago when he guided the club to Carabao Cup glory has dissipated into toxicity with the team losing five out of 10 games at Old Trafford for the first time in 93 years. Why has Ten Hag's golden honeymoon turned sour; is it the takeover looming over the club, fixture congestion, underperforming players or the manager himself?

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How much should Ten Hag be held accountable?

Old Trafford was a fortress for Manchester United last season, unbeaten in 15 of out 18 home matches in the league and losing just four in all competitions. However, in their opening 10 home games this season they have conceded first six times and they have lost by three goals or more in consecutive games at Old Trafford for the first time since 1962.

When he arrived Ten Hag was championed for his ruthless and raw approach, which saw him overhaul the squad for his personnel and abide by strict policy where he initiated punishment for any disobedience. It set a precedence at the club reminiscent to the golden era under Sir Alex Ferguson and it created success on the pitch, where he ensured he had a group of committed and loyal players. Fans, supported the Dutchman in his harsh exile of Jadon Sancho earlier this season, after the 23 year old publicly criticised his manager but fans are beginning to question his tactic's and stubbornness.

Manchester United have been lacklustre and passive at the start of this season, struggling to penetrate teams and exposed in defence. They have conceded 26 times in all competitions and are averaging 1.7 goals against per game. While, Ten Hag has suffered an exodus of injuries to key players like Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Luke Shaw he has appeared ignorant to the need to change his ineffective tactic's. New signings Rasmus Hojlund and Mason Mount are struggling due to a poor set-up which does not accommodate the pair, where Ten Hag is insistent on adhering to his distinct identity even when it is hampering the team's progress.

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Ten Hag facilitated the exodus of long-serving captain David De Gea during the summer for the flamboyant Andre Onana in goal which so far has been a huge failure. The £50m arrival from Inter Milan has been culpable for some huge mistakes this season, appearing reckless and unreliable and while his performances of late have improved fans are still beckoning for the return of De Gea. 

His decision-making has been questioned in recent games; such as side-lining Raphael Varane for the ageing partnership of Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire in the Manchester derby. His continued support of £85m flop Antony continues to drive a wedge between himself and the fans who have become incredulous at his inclusion after woeful performances and an off field saga. Ten Hag was the driving force who brought the Brazilian trickster to Old Trafford, but so far it has been a car-crash transfer with the 23 year old wanted out of the club.

However, the club have faced unforeseen difficulties at the start of this campaign with a unprecedented injury list and overwhelming fixture list which has seen them play 16 games already in all competitions. Ten Hag continues to be plagued by a restricted selection in midfield, with summer arrival Sofryan Amrabat struggling for fitness and Casemiro's ill-discipline record and recent injury. He was forced to play Moroccan midfielder Amrabat at left-back a few weeks ago amid injuries to Luke Shaw and Sergio Reguillon and the three day breaks in between games is leaving no recovery time.

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Are the Players to blame?

The conduct and loyalty of these Manchester United personnel's has been frequently questioned in recent years, after on and off field drama and poor performances in the famous shirt. Bruno Fernandes continues to divide opinion on his worthiness as captain, with Roy Keane recently stating the sulking Portuguese number eight was not a role-model for his teammates. While, he is clearly Manchester United's talisman who produces moments of magic, his temperament and on field conduct where he has been seen lashing out at teammates and moaning often appear bring the mood of his teammates down.

Marcus Rashford was re-vitalised under Ten Hag last season, scoring 30 goals in all competitions but he has been a shadow of that free-flowing scorer this season. On the ball he has been deemed selfish and his decision making in the final third has been terrible, where he has been wasteful in goal scoring opportunities. It could be the arrival of Rasmus Hojlund or is the 26 year old becoming tired of Ten Hag's antics and the direction of the club?

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Another player who has been a shadow of the leader that steered Manchester United to the Carabao Cup last season is Casemiro. The 30 year old has just seemed fatigued and ponderous this season and Manchester United are really suffering without the anchor-man who is renowned for his ball-recovery and kilometres covered.

Overall, patience is needed from the Manchester United fans with the belief Ten Hag can recover this poor streak still alive. The grey cloud hanging over the club surrounding this prolonged takeover has clearly not helped the team on the field due to the powerful uncertainty. If Ten Hag doesn't produce a change in the team's performances, then relationships could quickly become hostile as the fans want to see attractive football and an identity. 

Can Manchester United recover this season?

Written by Lewis Eadie

Twitter: @thebeaut_game1

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