Manchester United had just recently sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjær after a run of terrible results and even worse performances by the team.
As is always the case when a big club sacks its manager, several possible alternatives emerged in the media to replace Solskjær. Ralf Rangnick became the interim manager of Manchester United until the end of the season,however, once the season ends Rangnick is set to vacate the managerial position to become a consultant of the club.
Manchester United will need a manager after Rangnick’s interim term ends. Numerous candidates were lined up in the media and by the team’s fans to become the new gaffer at Old Trafford. The list is long but the most important names were Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochetino and Erik ten Hag.
All these managers have their pros and cons, in terms of track record Zidane is by far the most accomplished, he also has the experience of managing another European giant Real Madrid, and achieving considerable success there. Mauricio Pochetino turned an average Tottenham side into regular Champions League participants, finished second once in the Premier League, reached the Champions League final once and his teams played exciting, high tempo football.
Erik ten Hag is the man who is credited for taking Ajax Amsterdam back to the top end of European football once again. His young Ajax side reached the Champions League semi-final in the 2018/19 season and eliminated Real Madrid and Juventus before falling to a late defeat at the hands of Pochetino’s Tottenham. Man Utd fans are divided about who would be the best option for the club, as the title of the article suggests I am very much in the ten Hag camp.
Why Erik ten Hag?
Erik ten Hag is very much a proponent of the Dutch Total Football School that is most often associated with Ajax and Barcelona, and with coaches like Johan Cruyff or Arrigo Sacchi. Ten Hag was the coach of the reserve team of Bayern Munich during the first two years of Guardiola’s stay there and there are some similarities between Man City and Ajax that only a blind man could miss.
Just like Man City Ajax also like to dominate possession, in the five group stage matches of the current Champions League season, Ajax had more of the ball than their opponents in every game, on average they had 60% possession in these 5 matches. Another similar characteristic is the high defensive line of ten Hag’s Ajax sides or their pressing style high up the pitch, I named just a few here but there are many more.
The preferred formation of ten Hag at Ajax is the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, or arguably a 4-3-3 with to sitter midfielders. My potential team a will use the formation 4-3-3 in this article.
A possible United starting eleven of ten Hag.
Although Dean Henderson impressed many, me included, last year if I would have to predict who ten Hag’s goalkeeper would be I would say David de Gea.De Gea is very much back on form this season, he had already played under a coach with a similar style, Louis van Gaal, and excelled.
Although it is probably correct to say that de Gea is not on the level of an Ederson or Ter Stegen in terms of distribution, a must in an Ajax style team, he is superb in one v one situations which more than makes up for his weaknesses.
Ten Hag prefers his teams building out from the back so the passing ability of the centre backs is crucial in his team. One good illustration for this was Ajax’s last match against Besiktas, Ajax centre back Lisandro Martinez more or less created the goal by picking up a run from full-back Tagliafico and giving a superb pass to him from the halfway line, Tagliafico received the ball in the Besiktas penalty area and squared it to Sebastian Haller who scored a simple tap in.
From the current roster of Man Utd centre backs, Harry Maguire is well known for his ability with the ball, although his current form is also horrible I expect Maguire to bounce back under the new coach. The other choice in my opinion would be Raphael Varane. Varane is not uncomfortable with the ball either and his, for a centre back anyway, uncharacteristic speed would make him well suited to any team playing with a high defensive line.
In the 2018/19 Ajax team the fullbacks were very offensive and this hasn’t changed much in the 2021/22 team either. Luke Shaw would probably enjoy life under ten Hag, the offensive capabilities of Aaron Wan-Bissaka however are often questioned which might open the door for Diogo Dalot or to a potential new signing if neither would convince their new boss.
The role of the midfield of Ajax changed slightly since the 2018/19 season, just like Pep Guardiola ten Hag also liked to play the ball out with 3 men at the back. In the 18/19 Ajax side, the two sitter midfielders, de Jong and Schone both played key roles. De Jong dropped back to the two centre backs, while Schone remained in front of them to offer passing alternatives.
In the 21/22 Ajax side, it was generally one of the fullbacks, like Daley Blind, who remained as the third man, and when he played, Edson Alvarez was the midfielder, who provided the passing option for the three-man behind. This means that the other two midfielders have the licence to push forward.
Using these models my three tips from the current Man Utd midfielders would be Nemanja Matic, as the sitter midfielder, Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek the two attacking-minded midfielders, or if you like so ,box-to-box midfielders.
I had chosen Matic over McTominay for his superior passing ability and more disciplined nature, as I feel McTominay, despite his energy and attitude, is lacking in both areas in comparison with Matic. However, as things currently stand, Barcelona are in financial trouble and need cash for a rebuild. According to some reports the Catalans want to offload Frenkie de Jong to the highest bidder, who given the chance and incentives, can be Manchester United.
Donny van de Beek had already played under ten Hag and performed so well that he caught the eye of Europe’s top teams. Solskjær, in my opinion unjustly neglected him, but his new-old boss could reinvigorate van de Beek’s career. Bruno Fernandes was, in my opinion, the best player of the club since his arrival to the club, unfortunately, his form tailed off since September 2021, but a fresh start maybe what he needs.
The front free in ten Hag’s teams during the years varied in having what we would call a traditional centre forward. During the 18/19 season it was often Dusan Tadic who was the spearhead of the Ajax offensive playing the role of the false 9, while more traditional centre forward Kasper Dolberg or veteran Huntelaar was left on the bench.
This season ,however, ten Hag plays with a more traditional centre forward, Sebastian Haller, and Tadic is back on the left-wing. Ten Hag’s wingers differ from one another, at least that is my impression from the Ajax matches I had seen so far, with one, Antony being very direct in his approach, taking on defenders one on one, while the other, Tadic relies more on movement than dribbling. The wingers can either stay wide or cut inward, in this latter case the fullbacks push up to provide the width.
From the current attacking players of Man Utd, all are capable of cutting inwards from the flanks, as well as taking on the defenders one v one. However, the defensive role of the wingers in winning back the ball by pressing high up the pitch gives the edge to Rashford over Martial and Sancho over Greenwood in my opinion.
Mourinho was well known in his preference of Rashford over Martial due to Rashford’s superior defensive work, while Sancho already played at a team, Dortmund, which pressed from the front and Greenwood also came under criticism this season for his half-hearted pressing, although given how off form the whole team looked in the last two months it is probably a bit harsh to pass judgement on Greenwood.
My tip for the centre striker, unsurprisingly, would be Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo came under criticism this season, a surprise isn’t it, for his lack of pressing, however at 36, soon 37, years I honestly think it is ridiculous to expect Ronaldo to press like he is 26. The scoring record of the man speaks for itself, Ole Gunnar Solskjær failed to accommodate Ronaldo without destroying the balance of the team,however, if Erik ten Hag is the coach we all hope he is, he must find a way to carry one luxury player in the first eleven.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Andrew Szekler