Erik ten Hag is starting to suggest he has some clues for reviving Manchester United after their remarkable recovery from two opening defeats to make it four wins on the bounce, ending with an emphatic 3-1 Sunday’s victory over Arsenal.
To enter Old Trafford was to experience the stadium in a rare euphoric mood as United fans witnessed their team take down the league leaders and finish the tournament at a canter. The dominant meaning is shocking in a memory: that this is what it felt like in the golden years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign and that feeling can start again.
There is no rush to declare the new Ten Hag team as close to the finished article – a point the Dutchman is smart enough to make emphatic afterwards. What happens is a manager who shows he possesses a sharp football brain that marries tactical nous, insight into players and opponents, a strong will and, above all, decisiveness.
Behind United’s recovery from the days of a 2-1 defeat at home to Brighton and a 4-0 victory at Brentford is Ten Hag making the right calls in big decisions and enjoying the luck that comes with being brave And his man-management dramatically improves the squad.
A headline case-study that encompasses all of this is Marcus Rashford. The forward is up to three goals and two assists in the league in six appearances compared to his paltry four and two from 25 games last season. All players need confidence but Ten Hag immediately thought that Rashford was fueled by things and thought how to translate this into a footballer whose height, pace, strength and threat are the raw attributes of modern forward.
Rashford may still look lackadaisical and lack the relentless desire to assert the Ten Hag’s demands but this may be because the manager has instructed the 24-year-old to save his energy for lightning strikes at Arsenal for with his two goals ending their 100 % record.
The first pointed to it when it came moments after a similar sprint to a delightful defense-splitting Christian Eriksen pass. This occasion ended with the familiar sight from last season of Rashford faltering exactly when it mattered instead of backing himself to smash home. But, after a breather, Rashford next ran for a Bruno Fernandes ball and if his touch was clumsy and his feet needed readjustment, this time the trigger was pulled and, in by a ricochet from Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale was beaten.
Ten Hag is also playing a winning hand about Cristiano Ronaldo. The summer began with news emerging of his desire to leave United, creating a headache for the new manager. The Dutchman’s response: to talk about the 37-year-old as an asset and have the club brief that he is not for sale. The headache could turn into a migraine after Ronaldo didn’t leave the window – Ten Hags may privately believe that building spirit and unity is easier without the disgruntled megastar around the area – but because the former manager of Ajax managed three victories at the transfer deadline, his The use of Ronaldo as a replacement for the impact is a substitute for his authority and the team’s potential in late games.
Another revelation is Eriksen, who even Fernandes may have seen as a rival to fill the No 10 role, even though he insisted in pre-season that they could definitely work alongside each other. They can and will – except Eriksen is positioned behind Fernandes, a slick and rugged presence in midfield who always has a private action film, who can deliver a Hollywood pass, chip the ball away from an attacker, ghost in place, test the goalkeeper from long-range and, above all, raise those around him.
At £12.9m, Tyrell Malacia appears as close to a bargain as Eriksen’s free acquisition, the young left-back who sent Luke Shaw off the hook, even with the sight of Bukayo Saka flying past him as if on skates on Sunday was a concern. It didn’t lead to a goal unlike Raphael Varane’s late gift to Martin Odegaard which set up Saka’s equaliser. But it was a first material mistake from a Champions League and World Cup-winning centre-back who has been rejuvenated under the Ten Hag.
The Frenchman is partnered by Lisandro Martinez – another Ten Hag success-story signing. The Argentinian loves to defend, can start moves from the back and has an element that United have been missing lately: personality. Likewise, Antony, a €100m winger who graced his debut with a coolly taken opener against Arsenal and the celebrations that followed (this observer counted four) suggested the Brazilian was the kind of showman who haven’t been at United since Ronaldo in 2003 .
If Antony can prove half as good, Ten Hag will be pleased. And United fans will be more encouraged that Casemiro will not start as the midfield “cement” of the side (the characteristic of his manager) and how the drop of the captain, Harry Maguire, coincides with the four consecutive wins.
Right now, Ten Hag is the manager with the Midas touch. He and the team are sure to stumble but standing three points off the top after six games is a convincing return and, as the 52-year-old likes to reiterate, there is plenty of room for improvement in his new tenure. .