Erik ten Hag’s deluded message leaves Man Utd with a brutal reality

The Manchester United dressing room was eerily silent following their latest humiliating defeat. Perhaps that was for the best, considering what Erik ten Hag publicly stated about the performance. Some argue that his analysis of the 3-0 loss to Manchester City was more alarming than the actual game itself. This result has become expected, representing a larger trend in the team’s long-term performance.

The real question is whether Ten Hag genuinely believed his remarks. This is what he had to say: “In the first half, we had a solid game plan, and we executed it well. The game was evenly matched in terms of chances. We won the three previous matches, and team spirit was high. I believe we are making progress.”

Few at Old Trafford shared Ten Hag’s sentiment. Most were shocked at how effortlessly City dominated the game, except for the ecstatic away fans who reveled in their team’s superiority over their rivals. While Ten Hag may have been right in saying that the penalty given in the 26th minute changed the game, it only increased the pressure on United. They could no longer play defensively and had to leave themselves open to a barrage of attacks, resulting in a worse defeat than any other team has suffered against City this season, save for Fulham.

That’s why many of Ten Hag’s remarks felt empty. It’s hard to believe that the game was “evenly matched” when United struggled to leave their own penalty area or retain possession. While United did have opportunities when the match was still in balance, they were more a result of individual efforts rather than cohesive team play. It is questionable what game plan Ten Hag was referring to, given the lack of coherent attacking play and general disarray on the field.

Trying to instill belief in the team while denying the reality of their poor performance is a delicate balancing act for professionals in high-level sports. Unfortunately, Ten Hag’s comments echoed those of previous unsuccessful managers like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho, and David Moyes. The harsh reality is that United’s current predicament seems like the endgame, where they scramble for results and try to find positives amidst overwhelming negatives.

This is why Ten Hag’s assertion that United is “on the way up” raised so many eyebrows. Despite three consecutive wins before the City game, none of them were convincing. They relied on individual brilliance rather than cohesive team efforts. There is no attacking strategy or sense of direction. The team does not seem to have a clear idea of how to play, which is a cause for concern.

However, this does not necessarily mean it’s time for a managerial change. The current United board wants to maintain faith in the manager, as they are aware that there are larger issues at play, particularly with the potential Ineos bid to acquire a minority stake. Nonetheless, there are still concerns that Ten Hag needs to address.

One major issue is that it feels like United is merely going from one game to another, hoping for things to eventually fall into place so they can rebuild. While there is some logic to this approach, it is fraught with the risk of encountering a team that will expose their flaws. It doesn’t have to be City; any team can take advantage of United’s current playing style, as we have witnessed in numerous matches.

That’s why the situation feels so familiar. What is truly concerning is that Ten Hag was meant to bring about a departure from all the previous managers’ failings. He was supposed to introduce a new ideology, and there were glimpses of it until February. However, there has been a significant regression since then, despite him acquiring the signings he desired in the summer.

One can see shades of his predecessors, and not in a positive way. Solskjaer’s chaotic performances, where there is no consistent plan and every game is approached differently. Moyes’s puzzling post-match comments, finding silver linings in an otherwise disappointing performance. Van Gaal’s stubbornness, refusing to deviate from certain tactics and interpretations. Mourinho’s sudden personnel decisions, leaving players like Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, and Scott McTominay in or out of favor without clear justifications.

The hope is that Ten Hag is building towards something greater, but there is little evidence to support this notion. He needs to show significant progress to avoid following in the footsteps of his predecessors.


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