“An era can come to an end,” Erik Ten Hag had said over a year ago about Man City and Liverpool’s duopoly when he was passed the mantle of Manchester United coach. On Wednesday night, as his United players stood broken and battered at the end of a 0-3 drubbing to Newcastle United which eliminated them from the League Cup, he must have realised that this particular ‘era’ at Old Trafford is a long way from being over.
Last year, after the 10th matchday, United were 7th with five wins, two draws and three losses. This year, they are 8th, having already lost five matches. So what has changed in this one year for the club? If you believe the murmurs around, United have only regressed as a team with no signs of improvement forthcoming. Damning stats like Erling Haaland having scored 11 times for City this season which is the same number of goals United have scored as a team, have come to the fore. The goals have dried up considerably even after adding Rasmus Hojlund, a £64 million signing from Atalanta, who has been starved for service.
Marcus Rashford looks like a shell of the past while Casemiro, who had a decent start to life as a Red Devil, has only gone backwards. There is no creative spark in a team that consists of big names like Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount and Christian Eriksen. The £82m spent on Brazilian winger Antony looks like a failed investment as each matchday passes while goalkeeper Andre Onana has been shaky in front of goal.
Worse yet, Ten Hag’s tactics haven’t really materialised on the pitch with United intent on just pinging long balls into the box, hoping that the striker might conjure something from it. This was the same tactics that United managers of the past have tried with the big, burly Belgian Marouane Fellaini in days of yore. That did not work then and it’s seldom going to work now.
In Europe, the picture has only worsened with United’s return to the Champions League laying bare all their vices, something that they got away with in the Premier League last season. They have lost to Bayern Munich, Galatasaray and have just scraped past F.C. Copenhagen by a solitary goal.
If you compound the stats from all competitions, United have 8 defeats from 15 matches, their worst start to a season since 1962. Worse yet, this form has coincided with the rise of neighbours City who won the elusive treble of the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League, something that the United fans had held on to in their last bastion of hope. Alas, that’s not the case anymore.
However, the on-field issues of the club are dwarfed by off field ones. With the ownership saga rumbling on, the fans who are desperate to see the Glazers bow out of Old Trafford, were in for a rude shock when Sheikh Jassim of Saudi Arabia withdrew from his bid to buy United when he was consistently rebuffed by the American owners.
The club’s image took a further hit when their so-called star of the future Mason Greenwood was charged and arrested in suspicion of attempted rape, assault and coercive control. He has since been cleared and is on loan playing for Spanish side Getafe. The black cloud of controversy, however, refused to budge as winger Antony had allegations of domestic abuse levelled against him by an ex-girlfriend which led to him being dropped from the Brazilian squad. United had also kept him away from the team for a few matches but he has since been reinstated.
Coming back to Ten Hag, it has not been smooth sailing for the Dutch manager in regards to his team as well. After the ex-communication of Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia, Ten Hag has been mired with another controversy with Jadon Sancho about a controversial tweet and the England international has since been banned from the first team activities. If reports are to be believed, Sancho’s treatment in particular have raised the ire of some players in the dressing room and have resulted in morale to sink to an unfathomable low.
In one year, Ten Hag has failed to get United out of the issues that plagued his predecessors. The earlier managers had lost the locker room which led to them getting the sack and Ten Hag is currently standing at the very precipice of it. Time is running out for the Ajax manager as he looks to steer the ship out of the stormy waters infested with sharks.