News Matches
Manchester United

Welcome to Man Utd! Inside Ten Hag's turbulent first week of the Premier League season

12:00 PM GMT+4 13/08/2022
Erik ten Hag Harry Maguire Mark Arnautovic Man Utd GFX
An embarrassing loss at home to Brighton was quickly followed by a fan backlash over a bid for Mark Arnautovic

Erik ten Hag has been given a crash course in what to expect at Manchester United in only his first week of meaningful action. Defeat to Brighton in their opening game of the season marked the end of his honeymoon and laid the foundation for the most turbulent few days of his short Old Trafford reign.

“I would be more in panic when there wasn’t panic because we have to win,” the Dutchman said ahead of Saturday’s visit to Brentford.

That game already has a sense of “must-win” about it – particularly with Liverpool next up a week on Monday.

Ten Hag described it as a “hell of a job” after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat – but even he must have been taken aback at the reaction following a summer that has largely been injected with optimism since his arrival.

  • Transfer market trauma

    He didn’t help his own cause by pursuing a controversial move for Marko Arnautovic, who prompted furious fans to inundate chief executive, Richard Arnold, in protest.

    Meanwhile, the protracted hunt for Frenkie de Jong has defined Ten Hag’s first transfer window – and the success or failure of United’s bid to secure the Netherlands international could prove the pivotal moment of their new manager’s debut campaign.

    United are closing in on Juventus midfielder, Adrien Rabiot, with football director, John Murtough, travelling to Turin for advanced talks. But the fear among supporters is that the France international ultimately ends up an alternative, rather than addition to Ten Hag’s top target.

    The move for Rabiot began before the Brighton game, so was not a knee-jerk reaction to the impotence of United’s midfield in the face of Moises Caicedo.

    But he is still symptomatic of the failure to get their business done in time for the start of the season.

    “It was better to get the players in earlier because then you get them earlier in the process,” said Ten Hag. “Now in the department of midfield and offence you have seen when we have one injury then we have a problem. That’s clear.”

  • Eriksen's position & Ronaldo's return

    Increasingly, Ten Hag is the one having to answer for United’s transfer mis-steps.

    His preference is to focus on the pitch and the processes he is trying to make second nature to the players he inherited in his attempt to inject a modern, high-pressing system in which his side dominate possession.

    Players have reported that training this week has been intense, with Ten Hag breaking down the specifics of an error-strewn opening fixture.

    The added control they had when Christian Eriksen dropped into a deeper role in the second half was notable – and there is a good chance the Dane will start there against Brentford.

    Cristiano Ronaldo has continued to impress with his application in training – and it seems likely he will be at the point of attack after starting on the bench last week.

  • Rabiot to the rescue?

    But if Ten Hag is to make a meaningful change, it is accepted new recruits are vital, with De Jong seen as the most important part of his planned system – a midfielder capable of collecting the ball in deep areas and building play.

    Rabiot can do similar, even if he is not of the calibre of De Jong.

    Despite the Juventus midfielder’s reputation for being difficult, United only stepped up their interest after receiving positive reports about his character.

    If he is an addition to De Jong, or a De Jong-type, it is easy to see how he would bolster the options in the middle of pitch.

  • Marko Arnautovic

    The Arnautovic debacle

    Meanwhile, the move for Arnautovic, at the age of 33, pointed to Ten Hag’s desperation to bolster his attack – as well as suggesting his limited budget.

    While the fact the Austria forward was known to manager and his assistant, Steve McClaren, after working with him at FC Twente, was a factor in United’s interest – so was an expected price tag of around £8 million ($9.7m).

    Bologna’s attempts to drive up his valuation – as well as supporter uproar – contributed to the pursuit being quickly abandoned.

    Still, it will have been a lesson to Ten Hag as to the level of scrutiny placed on his every move in the job.

  • Gakpo instead of Antony?

    Now, Cody Gakpo is being considered because, at around £35m ($42.5m), he represents a much cheaper option than Ten Hag's primary target, Antony, with Ajax demanding in excess of £60 million ($73m) for the Brazilian.

    Gakpo is a promising player in his own right. He scored 21 times in all competitions for PSV last season and has already been capped seven times by the Netherlands.

    However, it is not clear if Ten Hag thought he would have more money to work with in his first window – not least because of the departures of so many high-earners like Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata – or if he believed he would be able to stretch his funds further by targeting players from the Dutch league.

    Either way, he is finding it difficult to get the names he wants through the door, which is the last thing he needs at a time when he is trying to stamp his authority at a club where too many players are able to take their place for granted.

  • McFred Scott McTominay Fred Man Utd 2022-23 GFX

    The frustration with 'McFred'

    For example, the ‘McFred’ partnership of Scott McTominay and Fred is too comfortable – and there was dismay among supporters to see them start against Brighton.

    Eriksen may break them up this weekend – but it will take the addition of a top-class holding midfielder to truly transform the shape of the team.

    By the time the Liverpool game comes around, Rabiot may be at Ten Hag’s disposal – but he will hope for much more come the end of the window on September 1.

    Because if quality reinforcements don't arrive, Ten Hag will have to brace himself for many more weeks as turbulent as his first in the Premier League.