Manchester United’s miserable start to the new season so far has sparked much debate about Erik ten Hag’s style of play. Is David de Gea comfortable enough with the ball at his feet? Do Lisandro Martinez’s build skills make up for his small stature? Is Christian Eriksen a false nine, a false six, or just a symbol of another false dawn?
But at a time when the intricacies of each manager’s tactical philosophy are being trawled through, sometimes it really is a lot easier than that. Sometimes it’s about pride.
That might sound like plain, simple analysis, perhaps even the kind of underthinking that has dominated Old Trafford for nearly a decade and reduced the most successful club of the Premier League era to the rubble of west London.
But then United’s humiliation at Brentford was so great, so profound and so comprehensive that Ten Hag’s rebuilding process had to start from the foundations. It all started with a fundamental question: Do you think you’re good enough to play for Manchester United?
If the answer two weeks ago was a resounding no, then following this unexpected, much-needed win over no less than their historic and most hated rivals, some members of Ten Hag’s squad will feel able to answer that question with confidence and a yes respond.
The consensus before the game was that anti-ownership unrest would work against United. If anything, it worked in her favor. Even if spectators inside Old Trafford had paid an admission fee directly to the objects of anger, they generated the same noise and anger as those protesting the Glazers outside.
Martinez set the tone in the first minute on the pitch. A small nudge to the shoulder from Mohamed Salah not only let the Liverpool striker know he was there but also kept the fevered energy in the stands.
He wasn’t the only United player to thrive on it. Scott McTominay snapped in tackles. Diogo Dalot enjoyed a tackle for the ball with Luis Diaz on the touchline. His eyes widened as he ended up fouling. Jadon Sancho, who has displayed a soft and subdued presence in most of his United appearances to date, demanded the ball as if he were finally ready to raise his hand. His deception to create space to score the first goal not only signed James Milner but Alisson as well, leaving an entire corner of the goal area to aim for.
The hope will be that this is the end of the beginning of Sancho’s Old Trafford career, the point at which he finally gets going.
It could be the start of a second chance for fellow goalscorer Marcus Rashford. The sight of Rashford snapping behind a defense and charging into the Stretford End as he did before United’s second has been rare for too long.
And even on those rare occasions, chance has regularly gone begging. This time, as the evening went, as Old Trafford’s roar of anticipation propelled him forward, there would only be one result.
Yes, Ten Hag did some things differently from a tactical point of view, although he insisted nothing would change. De Gea was much more confident and consequently much more direct with the ball at his feet and went long before hesitation set in. United didn’t flood the opposition’s penalty area with the same devotion they did against Brighton and Brentford, causing them to abandon their center halves and leave them alone to defend against counter-attacks.
Ten Hag adjusted his game plan. This demanded the caliber of their opponents.
There was no Cristiano Ronaldo either, until a late cameo. No Harry Maguire either. However, the most obvious difference from those at Old Trafford would have been a team of players who suddenly found faith out of nowhere.
Many of them may not be as good as their reputation suggests according to recent evidence, but they aren’t as bad either as the cartoons being promoted after years of social media mockery. There is talent here, enough for a coach with a clear and coherent idea and a knack for leadership to get a tone.
This cannot be described as a “statement” win. It’s still too early for Ten Hag and his United. There is much to do. But, two games later than expected, it’s a fresh start.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/manchester-united-liverpool-erik-ten-hag-b2150418.html Manchester United rediscover pride and promise after recovering from lowest tide