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Can Erik Ten Hag Turn Things Around With Manchester United?

For a split second in the recent grudge match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates, it looked as though all was right with the world. Argentinian prodigy Alejandro Garnacho had just bagged what appeared to be a late winner for the visitors and the Red Devils’ stuttering start to the 2022/23 Premier League season was back on track. Or so we thought.

That would-be-winner was ruled out for the tightest of offside decisions, much to the dismay of pretty much everyone in attendance and watching around the world. Then, to make matters worse, the Gunners would go on to steal all three points courtesy of a double salvo from Declan Rice and Gabriel Jesus deep into injury time. Those of the North London persuasion would celebrate long into the night, while the inquest into United’s defeat is still ongoing.

Manager Erik Ten Hag pointed the blame in numerous different directions. However, the player that came in for the most criticism was former Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho. The Dutch manager claimed that the England international winger was left out of the matchday squad for the rivals clash as he hadn’t trained properly during the week, something that the 23-year-old would vehemently dispute on his X account.

Whether or not Sancho has trained to the standards expected at Carrington is unknown. However, one thing that is certain is that all is not well at Old Trafford. United are distant +3300 sixth favorites for Premier League glory in the online soccer betting odds, and it’s crucial that Ten Hag turns the ship around… And fast.

Groundhog Day

The positive for United fans the world over is that this isn’t unchartered territory for the Old Trafford outfit, nor Ten Hag himself. Last season, the former Ajax boss’ start to life in England couldn’t have gone any worse. Heading into the first few games of the previous campaign, the Red Devils were still reeling from Ralf Rangnick’s disastrous interim reign as manager, and that showed once the campaign got underway.

United were stunned by Brighton on home turf on the opening day of the season as a brace from German midfielder Pascal Groß secured a 2-1 victory for the visitors. Barely a week later, they were routed by lowly Brentford, as first-half goals from Josh DaSilva, Mathias Jensen, Ben Mee, and Bryan Mbuemo secured a thumping 4-0 victory. But the tide would ultimately turn.

United would knock off Liverpool in their third game of the season, and things immediately picked up. Marcus Rashford found his shooting boots and began scoring goals for fun, leading United back to the Champions League and to an FA Cup final.

Dealing with unhappy attackers is also something that Ten Hag had to do last term. Cristiano Ronaldo famously broke the internet in his jaw-dropping interview with Piers Morgan on the eve of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The former Real Madrid star slated everyone from the manager and teammates to fans and pundits and was promptly released from the club and exiled to Saudi Arabia.

How Ten Hag handles the ongoing situation with Sancho is unclear, but it is a situation that needs resolving, and fast. However, with the transfer window recently slamming shut, an exit from Old Trafford may well be a difficult thing to arrange.

What Needs to Change?

The first problem that needs solving and fast is the club’s ongoing ownership issues, which is a situation in which Erik Ten Hag’s hands are tied. Ever since the Glazer family took over Manchester United back in 2005, fans of the club have not been happy. Many problems were masked by the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed to ensure that United were still a dominant force in both English and European football despite the turmoil behind the scenes.

However, the club has never been further away from the Premier League’s summit and as such, problems have begun to arise. The club has been beaten to numerous transfer targets throughout the summer transfer window and has seemingly been priced out of moves for box office players, despite still being one of the most commercially successful clubs on the planet. United remains on the market and there is no end of potential suitors, and for both Ten Hag and his team's sake, the issue needs to be resolved fast.

On the pitch, United need to quickly integrate new Danish striker Rasmus Højlund into the first-team setup. Ten Hag has been very pragmatic in his introduction of the £70m into his starting eleven, instead preferring the experience of last year's player of the season Rashford, and Frenchman Anthony Martial. It’s imperative that the former Atalanta man finds his feet quickly on Old Trafford’s hallowed turf and gives his teammates an outlet at the top end of the pitch.

Nursing central defensive stalwart Raphaël Varane back to health is also imperative. Last term, his partnership with Argentinian World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez was crucial to Manchester United’s strong finish to the season, and they need him back in the first team and firing on all cylinders. Let’s face it, the club cannot rely on Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans to lead them to glory.

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