Erik ten Hag has had a mostly positive start to life as Manchester United boss.
Since the first two games, both defeats, and taking away a bad day at the office against the neighbours Manchester City, United have steadily improved.
In the first two games against Brighton and Brentford we saw an attempt to replicate what had worked in pre-season (attacking, possession-based football). We also saw United dominate the possession in both matches (63% against Brighton and 67% against Brentford). While United created chances in both games, as someone who watched the two matches, the better team in Brighton and Brentford won.
So what changed after that?
Well changes were made to the back-four with Varane and Malacia replacing Maguire and Shaw. There was also a tweak made to the formation, going from an interchanging and free-flowing 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 to a more solid variation of a 4-2-3-1. United became more disciplined out of possession. The Red Devils seemed to press with more discipline, awaiting the right moments (triggers) to press. But for the most part it was about organisation, working as a team and giving everything. United had less possession. The running stats improved after those first two games as did the results, with United going on a four-match win streak in the Premier League, conceding only twice. Out of those four matches United only had more possession then the opposition once, which was away to Southampton were they had 52% possession.
It wasn’t until the recent 2-1 win over Everton that United had over 60% possession in a game since the two defeats early in the season.
That Everton game was the first time I’ve seen United put in a 90 minute performance that showcased dominance and looked close to Erik ten Hag’s style of play.
The passing was quicker, possession better and chance creation seemed to be far superior than the previous matches.
While a 2-1 win over Everton sounds far from dominant, United created lots of chances and should’ve won by more.
The Omonia game afterwards yet again brought dominance and chance creation, but the Red Devils required an injury-time winner from Scott McTominay to get the three points.
The home game against Newcastle was relatively even and bizarrely quite cagey, but again United created some really good clear-cut chances and probably should’ve got the three points in the end.
Then, came the Tottenham game at Old Trafford. United were sensational in and out of possession. The domination first really seen against Everton now had a high press implemented. United suffocated Tottenham and again should’ve won by more. A really encouraging win against a good team.
The last game against Chelsea was also a major positive. United forces Chelsea into a first-half sub as ten Hag’s side piled on the pressure. A 4-3-3 with Eriksen and Fernandes operating together in midfield was dominating the game. That first-half was brilliant by United and they could’ve, possibly should’ve, been 1-0 or 2-0 up. The character was shown second-half when, after a relatively underwhelming half from both sides, Chelsea score an 87th minute penalty. Untied could’ve let their heads drop, which we saw so often last season, but instead they attacked, showed desire and belief and were rewarded with a 94th minute equaliser courtesy of Casemiro.
I believe ten Hag adapting, becoming solid, getting some points on the board allowed United a platform to build from. We’ve now seen the team grow massively in both confidence and character, which is also down to new players like Martinez, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen and Antony, who all have determined characteristics.
I think Casemiro looking at to his best has meant United can go back to playing Eriksen in more attacking no.8 role, playing more alongside Bruno like we saw against Chelsea.
To summarise, I believe United are now looking closer to being an Erik ten Hag team. If they can continue to showcase this level of performance on a consistent basis, the future looks bright for Manchester United.