For the second time in a week, Manchester United have lost a game 3-0 at Old Trafford. After Manchester City doled out a humbling defeat on Sunday, Newcastle United have now poured on even more misery. Goals from Miguel Almiron, Lewis Hall and Joe Willock only told half the story. For the second time in four days, United were directionless, featureless and lacking any sort of style of play.
In the aftermath of the game, it finally began in earnest. As modern managers go, Erik ten Hag has enjoyed remarkable patience. The United fanbase online is incredibly fickle. But a third place finish last season, an EFL Cup win and reaching the FA Cup final had bought Ten Hag a deserved grace period. That period is now up, with “#TenHagOut” trending on the vanity project formerly known as Twitter before the Newcastle game had even finished.
It is certainly true that Red Devils bosses have suffered this ignominy for less. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer never convinced the keyboard radicals, even as he was finishing runner-up in the league, beating Manchester City regularly or reaching European finals. Some weeks, the Norwegian only needed to release his teamsheet for “#OleOut” to trend across social media.
But Ten Hag was supposed to be different. The antidote to what unfair critiques on Twitter described as the “just vibes” approach Ole engineered. But a year-and-a-half into Ten Hag’s tenure, he’s arguably one missed David De Gea penalty in the Europa League final away from having a worse resume than Solskjaer. Things certainly took longer to go south under Erik’s predecessor. That EFL Cup triumph last year is doing a lot of heavy lifting in Ten Hag’s Old Trafford legacy.
Results are on thing. After all, United have now lost eight of their first 15 games of a season for the first time since 1962. But the manner of the displays is perhaps the most concerning thing. Ten Hag was drafted in to give United that elusive identity. Something tangible that their style of play could be described as. But there is no evidence of that. This isn’t like Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal, where their clearly-defined approaches stopped working or were deemed aesthetically poor. One struggles to even conjure the words to pinpoint what Ten Hag is trying.
Sacking him would be the wrong move at this stage, despite the shouts from the online peanut gallery. There is no obvious successor available and, even if they were, they would be stepping into an impossible situation.
This side has been built with the vision of Ten Hag in mind. The likes of Antony, Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, Sofyan Amrabat and Lisandro Martinez were bought because they’ve all worked with or against Ten Hag in the Eredivisie. Meanwhile, signings like Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund were also reportedly manager-driven. He hasn’t always got his own way, such as being denied Harry Kane. But for the most part, but the signings that are there are Ten Hag’s.
If United did bring in another manager, they would be faced with a team assembled in a bespoke manner to serve one man. A new manager taking over would want to implement their own style. This would likely necessitate another expensive rebuild, something United have tried unsuccessfully numerous times since Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2013 retirement. United have the man in the building most likely to get the best out of the current squad. But he needs to start doing so quickly.
Injuries have played a role, as has the loss of form of a number of last season’s best players. Ten Hag certainly wouldn’t have budgeted for losing Martinez and Luke Shaw long-term or for Casemiro and Marcus Rashford falling so far. But the players left behind need to play to a plan and Ten Hag hasn’t demonstrated that he has one. If that doesn’t change, even the vast expense of replacing him and many of his players probably won’t save him. You can certainly make an argument that United have binned off managers for less.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change