Erik ten Hag cracks the whip

Erik ten Hag stamped his authority by dropping Ronaldo, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw for the crucial do or die match against Liverpool at Old Trafford. He clearly stated the reason to drop Maguire and Shaw was to "want mobility and agility" in defense. Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez as the latest centre-back pairing combined well with full-backs Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia to produce one of the best defensive displays in recent memory despite giving a goal away. Arrivals of Ibrahimovic, Lukaku, Cavani, Ronaldo had stunted the game time of Martial in particular and Rashford but the duo were given their chance on Monday night to combine for the second goal. Entire team were proactive and took the game to Liverpool in stark contrast to previous two games as revealed by the distance covered of 114km vs just 95km in earlier matches.

Scott McTominay covered the pitch with thought and restraint while Christian Eriksen sprayed the passes. Elanga had a wonderful chance to open the score but hit the post. Not to be detered Jadon Sancho received the ball in crowded penalty area and reversed his movement to out do the marker and slot in a direction pointed by Captain for the day, Bruno Fernandes to score. Old Trafford erupted in joy. Liverpool then upped their game and domintaed the rest of first half. After restart Anthony Martial replaced Elanga on the left and his weighted pass found Marcus Rashford who might have been just off-side and beat the keeper to make it 2-0. Liverpool scored with 9 minutes left to setup a finale but United's high spirit tended to that and even enabled a triple substitution of Ronaldo, van de Beek, wan Bissaka for Rashford, Eriksen, Dalot in 86th minute.

Before the kick-off #GlazersOut protests started from Media centre towards Old Trafford through the Munich tunnel and chants continued throughout the game. Hugh McIlvanney of the Times lamented in 2005 about "supporters are cannon fodder in football’s money wars, virtually guaranteed victimhood."  while Brian Glanville took direct aim at the Glazers "Utterly ignorant of soccer, owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers American gridiron club, obsessed by the urge to make money from childhood,.. he is the very incarnation of capitalism red in tooth and claw." After the disastrous touting of European Super League by the Glazers who reached out to fans in order to appease them 16 years after their massively leveraged take over, the English media in general have finally woken up. 

Kaveh Solhekol of Sky Sports started pointing out the reasons for United's downfall despite United being on a 5-game winning streak in last full season under Solskjaer while senior United and ex-Telegraph reporter Mark Ogden said 'diminished status and expectancy is down to the owners' after the humiliating 0-5 loss to Liverpool last October. Failure to conclude the transfer business not just before the pre-season but even after English Premier League has started just highlights the constraints under which Erik ten Hag has to operate. This repeated failure of Glazers is no longer hidden from most of the media nor are they enamoured by lavish signings and wages on last choice players who end up at Old Trafford instead. For once Fans and media are in sync.

Before the match fans paid tribute to players who were part of England's Euro 2022 winning squad Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Mary Earps and unveiled their latest signing Casemiro. The Brazilian despite his age might be one of the most influential signings United have ever made. He was the lynchpin of the most successful era in Real Madrid's recent history and allowed rest of the team to thrive and elongate their careers. Casemiro was man of the match when Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup and is match fit. Diego Simeone called him out “For the balance of the team, he is without a doubt their most important player.” while Zinedine Zidane brought him into the first team by noticing qualities similar to Claude Makelele with whom he played and won handsome laurels. Murtough and Arnold must be congratulated for having pulled out a coup of a transfer. Martinez and Casemiro fill the void of steely resolve and tenacity to the squad. Casemiro will wear shirt #18 of Paul Scholes.

United did not bow down to super agents in their quest to sign quality players. Ajax holding United to ransome over Anthony and 90 million is too much when their own fans claim 60 million is sufficient. This is especially true as club looks at back-up goal keeper, right back, striker and another midfielder. Erik ten Hag not only made the team run 13.8km which they lagged against Brentford team in their 0-4 humiliating loss but he himself ran with them to demonstrate he is with the team while helping them recover and not merely passing instructions. ETH exploited United's pace againts Liverpool to secure a memorable win and showed remarkable flexibility to change tactics. This is one of the key reasons why fans preferred him over Pochettino. Key now is to string up a winning run of games that includes Southampton and Leicester City.

Do or die against our biggest rivals as #GlazersOut gathers pace

New manager Erik ten Hag lost opening two games comprehensively against Brighton & Hove Albion (home) and Brentford (away) by scoreline 1-2 and 0-4. Team as a whole nor players individually did not demostrate any fight whatsoever. Ronaldo was introduced at half-time in the first match while three substitutions were made in the second where David de Gea was unusally responsible for two of the goals and apoligized for the same. Liverpool with two draws are 15th in the table meet United who are 19th on Monday in the biggest rivalry of English football. Last season United lost 0-9 on aggregate. Last time Manchester United lost their opening three matches it resulted in the change of manager before Christmas, first in 1972 with Frank O'Farrel and then in 1986 with Ron Atkinson!

Disastrous summer of rebuild without a head of recruitment caused this nightmare start with a new manager in tow. Richard Arnold and John Murtough concentrated all their energies on Frenkie de Jong who loves Barcelona not Manchester. Since the departure of Ander Herrera the club does not have a defensive midfielder of repute. Nemanja Matic was inefffective due to his age and Scott McTominay thrust into the cauldron like a youth parachuting over Normandy with only hope to his aid. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was backed to the hilt never filled this crucial gap having played with Roy Keane and Micheal Carrick. Erik ten Hag started both the games with McTominay and Fred in continuation of previous regime despite signing Lisandro Martinez who could have played in that role to limit the damage. Erik ten Hag has also retained Harry Maguire as captain, David de Gea as goal keeper and wants to retain Ronaldo who scored 24 goals for the club last season. If results do not improve either of these might have to give way.

Attention and blame was rightly pointed to the Florida based owners of the club, the Glazer family whose leveraged buyout has saddled a profitable club with debt that now stands at 590 million. They have thrown money since Sir Alex Ferguson left but without a clear vision. Mainstream media has finally got the guts to state these facts. But what took them so long? Was it their nationality or amount of money being thrown at the problem. Few of the grievances are listed below:

  • capped spending under Sir Alex Ferguson to 20 million even when rivals were spending more.
  • sold Ronaldo for world record 80 million but replaced them with Owen(free), Obertan, Valencia
  • have not upgraded the facility at Old Trafford since takeover
  • backed OGS, LVG without oversight even SAF esp by not having replaced Scholes and Giggs
  • backed the cult of Pogba over the manager Mourinho and destroyed the culture
  • united reserves relegated in 2018 under their watch
  • failed Moyes and Mourinho in the transfer window
  • commented that club can sustain without Champions' League football
  • earnings call always referenced social media frenzy the club generates but not sound football structures
  • only club owners in EPL to take dividends without putting their own money into the club
  • no fan interaction until the protest by fans over super league fiasco
  • backed the disastrous European Super League
  • not sacked Ed Woodward sooner. To be fair Richard Arnold from his interview appears more frank and sincere.

What was the initial reaction to the loss? United had apparently 75 million of Frenkie de Jong deal to spend and guess who they were approaching to sign - Marko Arnautovic and Adrien Rabiot! Arguement was that de Jong still signs before deadline day and additionals funds of 7 and 17 million coughed up to fill the gaps. Abject lack of big picture is brazenly evident in the decision making echelons of the club. Finally the #GlazersOut movement that got trending forced the club to make an approach for Brazilian midefielder Casemiro who like Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo has won five Champions' League titles at Real Madrid. Madrid were able to break perhaps their greatest midfield trio of Modric-Kroos-Casemiro due to marquee young talent they've signed up in Tchouameni and Camavinga. 60 million pounds with 10 million in add-ons for a 30 year old is still expensive considering that Varane was signed for 34 million pounds at 28 years of age last season.

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe a boyhood United fan who had even made a late bid to buy Chelsea earlier has expressed a firm interest to buy the club from the Glazers. The NFL affiliated owners who are at the forefront of commercializing sport are not likely to sell their English Premier League assets easily though. United would definitely match and exceed the price Chelsea got i.e., 2.5 billion pounds. What can force the Glazers to sell? Sustained fan protests in the immediate phase or pressure from the independent regulator when its fully functionaing later on. Change of ownership will be bumpy but if they do not take money off the club and invest instead will win over the goodwill of fans slowly apart from having a clear football vision. 

Madrid trio Varane, Casemiro, Ronaldo with ten Hag's signings Martinez, Eriksen all starting will mean captain Harry Maguire may not be first choice starter. His positional sense is suspect and is not adept at playing the high line makes him suseptible to errors that lead to goals. Ronaldo had to be assuaged by the United hierarchy especially given that there was no Champions' League football this season from the opening of the transfer window by signings like Casemiro and still need to add a backup striker, right back, midfielder, leftwinger, goal keeper if possible. Bid for another of ten Hag's favourites Anthony was increased from 60 to 80 million which is huge in itself but to raise it further to 100 million would be insane. Instead would a young and hungry Declan Rice make more sense? Or combination of PSV winger Cody Gapko and Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkov-Savic who both offer physicality that is lacking in United presently. Without Casemiro, United will need to manage Liverpool for now at Old Trafford. #MUNLIV This one match can turn the season around and save Murtough not Erik ten Hag from the sack.

New era dawns at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag ushers in new begining on the field while Richard Arnold the former head of commercial operations who took charge as CEO (from embattled Ed Woodward) in February does the same off field. Not just six players who came to the end of their contracts but also director of football negotiations, chief scout, global head of scouting, etc and appointed a deputy director of football in a club wide restructuring. In a positive development the new CEO has created an advisory group that includes Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson along with John Murthough. Club has even moved ahead with its plans for  'Fan Advisory Group' and 'Fan Share Scheme' that it initally announced in June, 2021 to win the fans back after the disastrous courting of European Super league. One crucial appointment missed was the head of recruitment which has severely impacted the most anticipated transfer window into a damp squib.

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's return the club chose to write-off last season by appointing an interim manager Ralf Rangnick to replace the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This is the main reason why fans have sympathy with the Portuguese star. To make up for that mess and loss of so many players on a free transfer, fans were anticipating both quality and quantity of incoming players. Erik ten Hag's voice on the field at Ajax the Argentine Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen on a free transfer and young left-back Tyrell Malacia are the only three new recruits. Club remain in pursuit of Frenkie de Jong presently of Barcelona after agreeing on a 75 million deal but the player is refusing to accept as he is owed deferred wages of around 17 million. A striker, right back and another midfielder are three area's club are yet to firm up an offer. Although striker appears to the most glaring gap due to unavailability of Mason Greenwood and Ronaldo's eagerness to play in Champions' League the lack of midfield options might deter the club from finishing off teams especially in away destinations. 

Erik ten Hag preparations for the new seaon began with a bang, a 4-0 win over Liverpool in Bangkok and followed by 4-1 win over Melbourne Victory, a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace and 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. However in the more serious matches United lost 0-1 to Atletico Madrid in Oslo and drew 1-1 with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford last week. Aside from these results several changes to the playing style was observed. Erik ten Hag was repeatedly heard shouting at players if they did any mistakes, five a sides were punished physically for letting a goal, all players are now required to eat together, more sessions on one-touch passes under tight spaces, Sancho and Dalot appear to develop an understanding on the right wing, Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage, Ethan Laird, Alejandro Garnacho all played well on tour. ETH has added Kevin Keij from Ajax as performance analyst and Benni McCarthy only South African to have won Champions' League while at Porto under Jose Mourinho to the coaching staff. ETH has retained Harry Maquire as captain dispelling all rumours about squad unrest. Phil Jones is by the way still registered as a player with Manchester United!

With net spend of 70 million on Martinez and Malacia it is the lowest after appointing a new manager at United except that of David Moyes who was given just one signing of Fellaini. How have Arnold and Murtough prepared to handle the hicupps especially after transfer window closes? Ferguson used to famously say that its a crisis if Manchester United loses two matches in a row. How will online fan trolls, media scutiny be managed by the new management team? Murtough, Arnold and Ferguson might talk to media after 3rd, 6th and 9th defeat of the season while ETH only talks about winning the next match. 16 matches to be played before first winter World Cup in Qatar including tough October against City, Spurs, Chelsea and 22 matches after. Blooding of FA Youth Cup winning players might induce patience from fans longing for silverwere since Stockholm, 2017 against Ajax side led by Erik ten Hag!

First signs of issues ETH has to handle aside from coaching occured in friendly game against Rayo when Ronaldo and few others left the stadium after being substituted at half-time. ETH later spoke with Dutch media outlet Viaplay describing this behaviour as "unacceptable". Earlier Ronaldo who had skipped the Asia-Australia-Norway tour for family reasons had posted on social media that he would be playing against Rayo "Sunday, the king plays". ETH might be forced to play Ronaldo for the 1st game of the season against Brighton as in-form striker Anthony Martial suffered a recurring hamstring injury. Fans though have already earmarked Alejandro Garnacho as the breakout player of the season. But who would United replace Ronaldo with at such late notice? Rashford to score more than 20 goals, yes. First the team needs to ensure 0-4 humiliation in last game against Brighton will not be repeated.

Manchester United exceeded the target yet again for commercial operations by two-fold before the start of the new season thanks to Ronaldo wanting out and being involved in fund raising of Barcelona for interest in Frenkie de Jong. Guessed it right the social media hype. Are United being played by Barcelona to garner investors as they seek to come out of economic collapse which made them sell Messi last season? ETH has identified FDJ as his main summer target as per reports from many credible journalists who track Manchester United. Chelsea who offer Champions' League football enter the fray for both Ronaldo and FDJ. Implications if United were to lose out, disastrous to be in this position in the first place. Due to lack of recruitment specialist the last word is yet to be written on this one. Till then its going to McFred in midfield. Unpardonable!

Erik ten Hag recently said "to win in a certain way, being proactive, brave and with adventure. This is also what belongs to the culture of Man United." Aye. Aye.

New United kit is smashing by the way, credit where its due.

United dominate opposition after years in doldrums

Manchester United totally bossed the game with 28 shots 10 on-target against 3rd placed Antonio Conte's Tottenham Hotspur who were also ...

Popular Posts