The five areas Erik Ten Hag needs to address if he is to bail United out of the doldrums

Manchester UnitedErik ten Hag, ,’s next permanent manager, has a serious job ahead of them to turn the club into a Premier League title contender again.

he Ajax coach (52) made a name for himself as one of the most exciting coaches in European football during his time in Amsterdam. But what are the crucial areas he needs to focus on first if he wants to succeed in one of the toughest jobs in football management?

Settling the captaincy debate once and for all

Harry Maguire had been a United player for a full five months when he was appointed captain by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer midway through the 2019-20 season.

The squad lacked other real candidates – David de Gea and a 22-year-old Marcus Rashford were the only other regular starters with any sort of seniority in the dressing room – and Maguire’s rise to wearing the armband has been without comment.

That has all changed now. After a prolonged period of inconsistent form, Maguire’s place and status as captain is being hotly debated outside of the United dressing room. Rumors that it is also a point of contention among the players themselves have always been denied.

The squad has more senior figures – with Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo perhaps the most dominant figures – and while a dressing room would ideally have multiple leaders, the armband is a powerful sign of importance and status.

Ten Hag has to make a decision about captaincy, even if it doesn’t change anything. It may be that Maguire is his skipper, it may be that a new captain is needed as part of a wider reset.

In any case, this decision needs to be accepted across the board to end the sideshows surrounding Maguire’s status immediately.

Plan for next season with or without Ronaldo

A striker is United’s priority in the summer market given Edinson Cavani’s impending departure, with Benfica’s Darwin Nunez at the top of the list.

The arrival of a young, up-and-coming talent like Nunez would raise the question of Ronaldo, who would still expect to start and has a greater tactical appeal than any other player at United.

The assumption that Ronaldo would not fit into a Ten Hag system at 37 is not entirely fair. Ten Hag successfully switched between using false and traditional nines during his time in Amsterdam.

Klaas Jan-Huntelaar made a more traditional appearance at the front than Dusan Tadic before Sebastian Haller. But Ronaldo’s pressing – or lack thereof – would likely be discussed again if there weren’t immediate signs of adjustment and improvement.

His numbers have risen under Rangnick but he remains in the bottom percentile of forwards in Europe when it comes to working without possession.

In the longer term, Ronaldo’s off-goal limitations would likely need to be addressed in other areas of the pitch. His limited playing time alongside a younger centre-forward would also need to be managed carefully.

However, these will only be an issue while he is still at Old Trafford and it remains to be seen whether missing out on Champions League football will force Ronaldo to reconsider these final years of his career.

His departure from Juventus last summer was sudden, relatively unexpected and driven by a desire to fight for honor until his retirement. Time is of the essence for Ronaldo but United need a gradual, patient rebuild.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely clear where he might go. The uncertainty about Ronaldo’s future could easily extend into the summer, meaning Ten Hag would need a contingency plan.

Get to the bottom of United’s fitness woes

After Paul Pogba limped off just under 10 minutes after the humiliation at Anfield, Rangnick couldn’t explain why he was now without another first-team regular through injury.

“This is now the seventh or eighth player to be injured and we only play in one competition,” he said. “It must raise some questions.” Liverpool, meanwhile, are struggling on all fronts and could boast of a clean bill of health.

Rangnick isn’t the first United manager to raise the issue in the post-Ferguson era and even the man yet to fill the role is concerned. Ten Hag is understood to have concerns about the fitness level of United’s players as they believe they haven’t been in “Champions League form” for a while.

United have had 108 matchday absences through injury this season, with the likes of Cavani, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane spending most of their time in the treatment room. Ten Hag cannot be successful without having key players available on a regular basis.

The Ajax head coach is known for prioritizing fitness and sports science.

“If we had to do runs in the woods to show him we’re fit, we’d try to do it in 1:50,” revealed Sjoerd Overgoor, his former Go Ahead Eagles midfielder. “He said, ‘No, when I say two minutes, it’s not 2.10 or 1.50. It’s two minutes.’”

Design a transfer strategy in his image

This may still be one of the most coveted jobs in world football, but given United’s dysfunctionality for the best part of a decade, it’s not a job any manager should accept unconditionally.

His role in the broader structure of the club’s football operations and its influence on transfer policy were regularly discussed in discussions between United, Ten Hag and his representatives.

The manager’s office at Old Trafford has a veto on potential signings alongside the recruitment department. This department is likely to see changes this summer following the departures of chief scout Jim Lawlor and head of global scouting Marcel Bout.

Ten Hag is keen to prevent United from making any more mistakes in the market. To do that, newcomers need to occupy targeted positions and be able to play his brand of fast and fluid possession football.

There are gaping gaps that must be filled if this vision is to be achieved. As well as the striker, who is a priority, United need one or two central midfielders who can pass the ball, a right-back capable at either end of the pitch, a goalkeeper who is comfortable in possession and at least one centre-back. the half that can excel in a highline to play Ten Hag’s style.

Rangnick suggested after the Liverpool defeat that “six, seven, eight, maybe ten” players could come to Old Trafford in the summer as part of a squad reshuffle.

It would be a busy and expensive summer that would be difficult to pull off without the lure of Champions League football.

Above all, adapt

However, the scale of the problems that need to be resolved at United cannot be underestimated and the truth is patience will likely be required.

Some of United’s many problems will be immediately within Ten Hag’s reach, others will take longer to address and some are completely outside of his sphere of influence.

More than anything, Ten Hag needs to adapt. At least that’s what he’s used to from his time in Amsterdam.

In an interview after guiding Ajax into the Eredivisie in his first full season as manager, he explained why he strayed from some of the club’s traditional principles – such as a nominal 4-3-3 system – after taking charge.

“The qualities of the players determine the system, not the other way around,” he told Voetbal International. “It’s not even about systems. It’s about what you do in possession, when you lose the ball and in those moments when you turn around and you have to be able to change that. As I said, the qualities of the players determine how you play.”

United’s squad isn’t particularly well-adapted to Ten Hag’s style, meaning his United could well be a different proposition than his Ajax for the first season or two. The five areas Erik Ten Hag needs to address if he is to bail United out of the doldrums

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