Erik ten Hag's future uncertain despite the heroics against Liverpool in FA Cup

Oft overlooked by Erik ten Hag the Ivorian winger Amad Diallo scored an unlikely goal to help United win in 121st minute of extra time in the FA Cup quarter-finals against arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. That 4-3 victory will go down as an all-time FA Cup classic. It's the 10th time that Manchester United have knocked Liverpool off in the world's oldest Cup competition, more than any other team! This match was billed as a 'Judgement Day' for the embattled Dutch coach and he came out victorious. This epic victory should have galvanized the team to finish the season stronger.

That did not happen. United gave one of their worst performances of the season to draw 1-1 at Brentford, lose in 2nd half stoppage time to Chelsea 4-3, drew with both Liverpool and Bournemouth 2-2. That's potentially dropping 8 massive points when United are already 10 points behind 4th place! Realistically United now battle with other two United's in Newcastle and West Ham for the 6th spot and rule out Champions' League football. That will hurt the earnings given the already challenging situation with respect to Profitability and Sustainability Rules and impact the summer transfer activity.

Against Liverpool, Erik ten Hag got the substitutions right and he timed it well. He was always proactive and seemed to think of all options available to him. Yes Liverpool failed to capitalize on their dominance and score. Rashford missed chance after chance until the extra time for 3rd goal, Anthony having a torrid season saved his coach's blushes by scoring the vital equalizer after he came on as a sub to take the match into extra time. Eriksen made a rare appearance after being sidelined by the rise of Kobbie Mainoo. Andre Onana has finally settled in and earning his team points by his crucial saves. Have the team and coach started to believe in one another fully now?

United faced 31 shots against Brentford and 4 hit the bar with McTominay partnering Mainoo in midfield. Erik ten Hag rested Casemiro and introduced Licha Martinez too soon and got injured again, so did Lindelof after Maguire was brought on for Varane. Defensive nightmare. Mason Mount scored his first goal in injury time and team gave away the lead inside 3 minutes. United had 28 shots against Chelsea and lost the lead in stoppage time to concede two goals! Unpardonable. At half time United probably lost Raphael Varane forever with his later claim of concussion as he approaches final 3 months of his contract with United having averaged partly 19 games a season in 3 years. Evans substituting Varane also got injured and had to be subbed. Anthony had a decent game while Rashford was rested for this game.

It was time for Liverpool in the league and United's first half was atrocious to concede 15 shots with their best XI available to them. Credit to Willy Kambwala who displayed no nerves and gave a rousing audition. Kambwala, Mainoo and Garnacho the three teenagers to face the arch rivals. Second half was much better with two pieces of individual brilliance from Fernandes and Mainoo to give United the lead 2-1. Wan-Bissaka was harshly adjudged to give away a penalty. United did dent Liverpool's title hopes. Bournemouth hit United 20 times and took the lead twice but for Fernandes to score twice and deny the seasiders their first double over United. Fans were left to wonder how this team that battled Liverpool in second half can be so flat in the next game. Kambwala's slip is to be ignored but not the decision to not bring either Eriksen or Amrabat on to get more control in the game. Garnacho was tired and Amad was brought on at half time. United were simply battered black and blue by Iraola's side. 

Amrabat who had played for Erik ten Hag earlier surprisingly looks out of depth to play for United. His loan fee is not cheap. Licha Martinez is often injured and forces the hierarchy to get two new centre-backs instead of one. Anthony has not lived to the hype around his massive transfer fee and instead United should have got Victor Osimhen. Reluctance to change the shape of midfield given that both Mount and Eriksen are available to gain more control of games. Persistence with out of form Casemiro. Erik ten Hag will lead United against Coventry City in the FA Cup semifinal but his methods have not yielded a style of play that fans can relate to.

Instead, it's the same old counter attack and relying on moments of individual brilliance to scrape through when the opposition has completely dominated the game. Injuries especially to the back four, Ronaldo/Sancho/Greenwood situations, lack of football structure behind the coaching staff, change of ownership, promoting Garnacho/Mainoo/Kambwala all adds in his defense so does his first trophy the League Cup and second potential FA Cup final in two years. There is however Massimiliano Allegri who had always wanted to coach United and might be available in the summer. That is high profile candidature unlike Potter, Frank, O'Neil and his relaxed attitude might edge the players too. Decision time for INEOS. With the right structure behind him including recruitment, medicine, training etc being setup by Brailsford, Berrada, Ashworth, Wilcox et al the Dutchman might get one final shot to make things right. The on-field evidence has clearly not been convincing.

Garnacho, Hojlund, Mainoo

INEOS chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe not only met with all staff and players but also fans forum and community groups to stress the same message which was in their subsequent statement "determined to put football and performance on the pitch at the heart of everything we do". This clearly meant they want to do what they mean. Sir Jim also attended the events to mark the 66th anniversary of Munich air disaster on 6th February alongside Sir Alex Ferguson. This in itself has been a huge departure as Glazers never did attend the event the response to which defines what United are all about. This affirms INEOS understanding of what matters most to Manchester United fans.

The announcement of Omar Berrada as United's new CEO took everyone by surprise. Industry experts agree it's a great appointment of someone thought very highly in the City group hierarchy and as a possible successor to Ferran Soriano. Prior to this United were all about leaks to press including the team-sheet but this operation was done discreetly and decision made very soon without wasting time. It is the most challenging job in world football right now. Berrada is expected to join United in the summer and might have a say in who becomes the director of football. Dan Ashworth, Julian Ward, Paul Mitchell, Dougie Freedman are thought to be considered. Meanwhile Sam Williams returns to United as Lead Scout for 17s to 21s from Ipswich.

In calendar year 2024 United are unbeaten. Seen off minnows in Wigan and Newport County in FA Cup, drew with Tottenham, beat Wolves and West Ham in the process scoring 15 goals conceding 7. Unsurprisingly it coincided with the return of defensive lynchpin Licha Martinez from long term injury. But he again sustained an injury in the game versus West Ham and will be out for about 8 weeks. Not only did Licha return from long term absence but also Casemiro, Luke Shaw and Kobbie Mainoo. That's four first team starters and the poor bench strength was clearly exposed for first half of the season. United aren't yet controlling games with specific patterns of play and haven't displayed enough intelligence to switch from one pattern to another by reading the opposition during the games like how Champion's do. Nor have they stopped conceding easy set pieces.  

Silver-lining that fans were waiting for occurred in the match against West Ham after Garnacho scored and raced toward the advertising board behind the goal post and sat, to be joined by Rasmus Hojlund and Kobbie Mainoo on either side. The image of young United players coming together to score and celebrate went viral eliciting eulogies from everyone. It lifted the mood and fill the hearts instantly. United could not make any signings in the January window owing to FFP rules, now called PSR. Their summer transfers were made possible by a fire sale of academy graduates like Elanga, Kovar, Mengi, Zidane, Savage etc as their unwanted first team players did not evoke any response from even the lower leagues. Now the same academy players in Garnacho and Mainoo are saving the dire season.

Rasmus Hojlund by his sheer industry and skill managed to be top scorer in Europe in Champions' League qualifying rounds but found going tough in Premier League mainly due to lack of service from his team-mates. After 1027 minutes without a goal, he showed great awareness and generated enough pace to beat the Aston Villa keeper to clinch the winner. His tenacity reminds me of my favourite player Mark 'Sparky' Hughes. He has scored 4 goals and created 2 assists in last 4 games. He like Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a boyhood United fan and scoring at Stretford End would have made his dream come true.

One of the reasons for the change was that Erik ten Hag finally dropped Anthony after his goal and assist against Newport and moved Garnacho from left to right wing as Rashford was not enjoying playing there. Rashford has been fined for another transgression which made him to miss the game at Newport and was quickly integrated for Wolves game after he apologized. By including Omari Forson in the squad who got the assist for Kobbie Mainoo's winner at Wolves and plays at left wing was a clear signal from Erik ten Hag that Manchester United will march on regardless of anyone's reputation. In the immediate manging with Licha Martinez's absence will be crucial to maintain the momentum as United aim to reduce the 9-point deficit from final the Champions' League spot.

Grim midseason update as INEOS finally step in

INEOS group led by boyhood Manchester United fan, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has finally reached agreement with Glazer family to acquire 25% of the club and control the footballing operations. This protracted saga that began in November, 2022 will conclude finally when the Premier League approves of this transaction early next year. It will mean Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc overseeing the entire football structure including the much-maligned recruitment department. Brailsford the 'marginal gains' guru will coach the entire coaching staff on his CORE principles and Blanc will lead football operations with his previous experience at Juventus and PSG. C for commitment will probably mean fans won't have to hold 'play like you mean it' banner hereafter.

Populous group the global design agency who've developed Tottenham Hotspur stadium and Legends group have come out with a plan to build a new stadium next to the present iconic Old Trafford by utilizing the vast space surrounding it. This will mean United will not need to play their home games elsewhere but could continue playing their home games at Old Trafford while work on new stadium commences. Also Jean-Claude Blanc spearheaded the first club owned stadium in Italy by converting Stadio Delli Alpi to Allianz Stadium, a modern and sophisticated UEFA accredited level 4 arena. INEOS had promised $300 million investment into infrastructure on the deal getting ratified but Old Trafford redevelopment will need in excess of $1 billion! Will refurbishment and expansion of existing facilities be way to balance in view of global geopolitical turmoil and keep the heritage?

Manchester United's form has been utterly inconsistent to say the least. Erik ten Hag tries to blend his ideas and when struck goes back to counter-attacking style epitomised under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This approach has meant United still do not have an identifiable style of play. Especially this season its more of the later that has made even fans question the tactics of the gaffer. Dismal loss away to West Ham, worst performance of the season in 0-3 home loss to Bournemouth, losses to Newcastle, Man City, Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion, Arsenal and Tottenham that's a whopping 8 defeats in 19 games with negative goal difference of -4 and 11 points behind leaders. Bournemouth won for the first time in their history at Old Trafford, United have now lost 4 consecutive Premier League games to Brighton, lost 5 of opening 10 games, are some of the damning indictments of the performances this season.

United finished creditable third last season and qualified for the Champions' League. They were paired with favourites Bayern Munich, Galatasary and Copenhagen. Least expectation was to finish behind Bayern and fight for 2nd spot. Lost in Munich despite scoring 3 goals, lost at home to Galatasary, squandered the lead in Istanbul, blew up in Copenhagen to a partisan fantastic crowd supporting the home team vigorously to finish bottom of the group! Incredibly sloppy and poor. Scoring 12 goals is no consolation while conceding 15. Harry Kane won Man of the Match awards in both games to remind United of composure they still lack in their play and scoring goals. Lindelof-Martinez combination started 1st match, Maguire-Varane started two matches while Lindelof-Varane 1, Lindelof-Maguire 1, Maguire-Evans 1 match each i.e., 5 pairings in 6 matches! Varane was absent from first team from September till Liverpool league game for which club captain Bruno Fernandes was suspended, an inexcusable mistake. In the group stage Rasmus Hojlund was the top scorer in Europe with 5 goals which bears testimony to his undoubted skills.

Scott McTominay was reintroduced as an attacking midfielder and he grabbed two late goals against Brentford to win the match at Old Trafford. That put more stress of defense who had men in short numbers in front of them to protect. Amrabat who joined at the very end of transfer window had not been playing for Fiorentina while waiting for the move to his boyhood club. Major injury to Licha Martinez and Malacia, minor ones to Mainoo, Shaw, Mount, Casemiro, Rashford, Maguire, Martial, operation to Lindelof, Sancho out of the squad due to indiscipline have all meant United kept changing players. Add to those three major facts: main player of last year Casemiro's loss of form, 30-goals man Rashford hit a drought and new goal-keeper Onana taking time to settle down while conceding few errors.

Belatedly Erik ten Hag might have realised that its better to bred youth instead of rotating the same squad with little improvement. That has led to more chances for Garnacho, Mainoo, Mejbri, Kambwala in the first team. Team that started that astonishing comeback game at home to Aston Villa was: Onana, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Evans, Dalot, Mainoo, Eriksen, Garnacho, Fernandes, Rashford, Hojlund. Erik ten Hag, Harry Maguire, Alejandro Garnacho have won the manager, player and goal of the month awards from Premier League. Best home game thus far was the 2-0 win over Chelsea. Given the players that the gaffer wanted clearly its old boy Johnny Evans has been the player of the season so far and Diogo Dalot put in most outfield minutes while captain Bruno Fernandes has crossed 100 mark for creating chances. Despite media reports of Erik ten Hag losing the dressing room, team battled to 0-0 draw at Anfield where they had lost 7-0 last season. Out of Europe and only FA Cup to contend with apart from the league, should give the manager ample time to improve the players individually and the team consequently. Happy new year!

Sir Bobby Charlton: Inspiration for Manchester United post Munich and England's greatest ever

I became a fan of Manchester United thanks to Sir Bobby Charlton. While recovering from typhoid and para-typhoid in the summer of 1990, being able to watch episodes on World Cup history and then matches itself beamed on Doordarshan was a welcome relief. Charlton became my favourite. His natural instinct to shoot from 20 yards those thunder shots from either feet and exude a sense of quiet determination set him apart. Another fact that he played for a club based in a city renowned for textiles, the same industry that my father worked sealed this relationship for my lifetime.

Wave after wave of success that came United's way during the time of Sir Alex Ferguson, who like Sir Matt Busby reposed faith in graduates from youth academy in 1996 the likes of Giggs, Butt, Beckham, Neville, Scholes et al and that incredible treble during which time would frequently get to see Charlton in the director's box. The most striking aspect of those years was the reflection by Ferguson in 'Managing my Life' about not only the support that Charlton extended to him during the difficult period in 1989-90 season but also played a pivotal role in joining the club in 1986 "if ever I decided to move to England, I should let him know." during the World Cup in Mexico where Charlton was a commentator.

During his school days Charlton heard the 1948 FA Cup final on radio where the commentator described the match as the greatest FA Cup final of all time. He made up his mind if ever he were to join a club it will be Manchester United. Chief scout Joe Armstrong ensured United were the first club to approach and the fact that club had the best coaching setup further convinced Charlton. While in Manchester as a school boy Charlton declined to continue in Grammar school as he was required to play for them on Saturdays and not allowed to miss school on weekdays, so instead he decided to train as an apprentice engineer. Charlton made his way from playing in 5th tier of youth team through to winning the FA Youth Cups and two Youth Championships in Zurich to the first team between 1953 to 1956.

"Jimmy made me a Professional." was the dedication by Sir Bobby to the man who helped him the most to get the basics right and at the same time retain his special talents, Jimmy Murphy. Fierce competition for places meant Charlton had to bide his time to get into first team. Even after his debut and winning a league championship his place was not secure and he only got to play if either Tommy Taylor or Dennis Viollet got injured. That all changed on 21st December, 1957 when Sir Matt Busby made major changes to drop Ray Wood, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and pick Harry Gregg, Ken Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Albert Scanlon for a game vs Leicester City, United went on a 7-match winning streak! Then Munich happened.

"This is what lies at the heart of my story, first I had to go back to Munich.Without doing that, I know I couldn't begin to define my life" Charlton recalls in the Prologue of his autobiography "My Manchester United Years". His brother Jack said "He stopped smiling, a trait which continues to this day." Charlton was particularly upset about losing Duncan Edwards a fortnight after the crash when he was still recovering at his family home 113, Beatrice Street in Ashington near Newcastle. Charlton returned to play for United on 1st March in an FA Cup tie against West Brom. In three seasons immediately after Munich between 1958 to 1960, he scored 29, 18 and 21 goals which is quite easily his best goal scoring period for United in his entire career. Incredibly United finished as runners-up in 1959 league championship which no one could predict after losing 10 first players including 8 who died and 2 who could never play again.

"When things looked their bleakest after the Munich accident and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United." Sir Matt Busby 

Despite the personal differences formed a enthralling trinity with Denis Law and George Best from January, 1964 to October, 1971 that became the most anticipated team news attracting crowds wherever they played thus creating a legion of fans outside Manchester and worldwide that uniquely made Manchester United to be the best supported club in the world. Lifted the FA Cup in 1963, won two further league championships in '65 and '67, and ultimately the European Cup in '68 by scoring an unusual goal from a header in the final. Charlton collapsed on the pitch after the match and thinking of his lost pals stayed locked up in his room not joining rest of his team mates in celebration. 

Charlton scored on his debut for England against Scotland in 1958 and also in his 2nd game against Portugal but was made a scapegoat for the heavy loss against Yugoslavia and missed out on playing in the World Cup in Sweden when the team was still being picked by a committee. These matches being played immediately after Munich, at Belgrade both teams paid thier respects with a minute's silence with Charlton the only player who had survived the ordeal while his United team mates played AC Milan in the 2nd leg of European Cup semi-final. His record appearances and goals scoring feat both for Manchester United and England stood for more than 40 years! In the 2nd match of 1966 World Cup campaign against Mexico, it was Charlton's burst from inside his own half to carry the ball through and unleash a beauty from 25 yards that instilled confidence in England team after a dull 0-0 draw in the opening game. In the final, Charlton's selfless running slowed down Beckenbauer considerably in the 2nd half giving England a decisive edge against Germany. Charlton and Nobby Stiles are the only two Englishman to have won the World Cup and European Cup. Four years later despite leading 2-0 against Germany in quarter-finals, Alf Ramsey took Charlton off that instantly released Beckenbauer who scored and later they won the match in extra-time. 106th cap for England ended in anti-climax. Charlton is the lone Englishman to feature in Johan Cryuff's all-time favourite XI. 

Sir Bobby Charlton coined the phrase to describe Old Trafford as "theatre of dreams" and it will be the fitting host to honour his monumental legacy for both club and country. Words aren't enough to thank him for being always there and inspiring generations of players and fans alike. 

Erik ten Hag's future uncertain despite the heroics against Liverpool in FA Cup

Oft overlooked by Erik ten Hag the Ivorian winger Amad Diallo scored an unlikely goal to help United win in 121st minute of extra time in th...

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