Revitalising Rashford, following Fergie's approach and inspired transfer business - Six ways Ten Hag has transformed Man Utd

Erik Ten Hag Marcus Rashford Casemiro Lisandro Martinez Man Utd
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After a chastening start to life at Old Trafford, the Dutch coach has transformed the Red Devils into a team chasing an unlikely quadruple

Erik ten Hag's reign at Manchester United could not have got off to a worse start. After losing 2-1 to Brighton at home on the opening day, the Red Devils travelled down to Brentford - where they were soundly beaten 4-0.

The result was treated with the sort of frenzied reaction that should be expected when United are on the wrong side of a drubbing, with naysayers warning that the club was damaged beyond repair.

But just a matter of months later, Ten Hag's side are threatening to sneak into the Premier League title race and challenge for four trophies. After so many false dawns, United finally appear set to shake off the malaise that has shrouded Old Trafford for a decade.

The Dutchman has been the architect of this quite remarkable turnaround, instilling discipline, making some inspired moves in the transfer market and improving several players that had previously appeared destined for the scrap heap.

Below, ahead of the Carabao Cup final, GOAL takes a deep dive into exactly how Ten Hag has turned United's fortunes around so swiftly...

  1. Revitalising Rashford
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    Revitalising Rashford

    The 2021-22 season was seriously rough for Marcus Rashford. It began with a niggling injury and he never got going after that, finishing the campaign with a sickening 12-game scoring drought in the Premier League.

    In truth, Rashford looked unmotivated and uninterested at times, and there were loud rumblings that he might call time on his United career in the summer.

    However, Ten Hag's arrival has transformed his fortunes. It is no overstatement to describe Rashford as the most in-form player in Europe right now, with the 24 goals he has plundered in all competitions already surpassing his tally from any other previous season.

    Ten Hag's role in this resurgence is pretty simple, really. When he first met Rashford he told him: "I want to see you smile, I want to see your teeth. Now we see it often. I think he’s in a happy place, the whole dressing room is in a happy place, there is a lot of confidence and belief in this squad."

    Rashford's improvement is the textbook example of Ten Hag's impeccable man-management skills. He has restored the forward's confidence and the thought of him being sold is now completely laughable.

  2. Instilling Ferguson levels of discipline

    Recently, Ten Hag's red-wine fuelled meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson made headlines, with the current United boss revealing that he "cannot wait for the next one".

    Harking back to the glorious Fergie era has been less of a help and more of a hindrance for some of the Dutchman's predecessors, but it's clear that there are plenty of similarities between the pair.

    Most strikingly, like Ferguson, Ten Hag runs his dressing room with iron-clad discipline. No one has been immune from the code of conduct this season. Even Rashford, in the form of his life, was dropped to the bench after arriving late to a meeting, while big-money signing Jadon Sancho was placed on an individual training program to correct his mental and physical struggles.

    There has also been a clear change in the way the players address the media, something Ten Hag explained following his side's 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace back in January.

    "What I want to bring in is a culture of high standards, values, accountability and transparency. So honestly that is our values that I want to set and control, both internal and external with the media and the fans," he said.

  3. Moving on from Ronaldo

    Moving on from Ronaldo

    Of course, the most revealing example of United's newfound discipline was the protracted Cristiano Ronaldo saga.

    Only a special leader can take on one of the most influential sports people on the planet, but Ten Hag did exactly that - and 'won'.

    The first signs of discontent appeared during a pre-season friendly against Rayo Vallecano, where Ronaldo - who was pushing for a move away from the club at the time - was among the United players to depart before full-time. Ten Hag described the incident as "unacceptable", refusing to brush his disrespect under the carpet.

    In November, he repeated the trick, heading straight down the tunnel following his side's victory over Tottenham. Ronaldo later explained in that infamous Piers Morgan interview that his actions were a result of being "provoked" by Ten Hag, who only saw fit to use him as a late substitute.

    That wasn't the only mud thrown in the head coach's direction either...

    "I don’t have respect for him because he doesn’t show respect for me," he also told Morgan. "If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never gonna have respect for you."

    This attack would result in Ronaldo leaving Old Trafford shortly after, something many suspected Ten Hag wanted all along despite his often positive press conference comments.

    Ronaldo is now at Al-Nassr, while United - free from the media spotlight his doomed second spell constantly brought - could end their lengthy trophy drought when they face Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.

  4. Inspired transfer dealings
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    Inspired transfer dealings

    The jury's still out on Antony and United probably could do with another striker, but generally Ten Hag has got almost everything else right in the transfer window so far.

    Lisandro Martinez's signing was widely panned in the summer, most notably by Jamie Carragher, who has since been forced to backtrack following the Argentine's superb form. Christian Eriksen - incredibly, a free transfer - has proved to be an inspired piece of business too, giving United a far more incisive edge in the final third.

    The cream of the crop, however, has to be the signing of Casemiro. Costing £70 million ($84.6m) from Real Madrid, the Brazilian has had a restorative effect on the United midfield, adding much-needed solidity and control by breaking up the much-maligned Scott McTominay-Fred pivot.

    Under new owners, Ten Hag could be handed a transfer war chest and the club would be wise to listen to his recommendations due to his near-spotless recruitment record.

  5. Modern coaching to improve players

    The principle appeal of bringing Ten Hag to Manchester was that he represented a type of manager that United have not yet tried in the post-Fergie era. Namely, a young, modern coach in his prime.

    Unlike Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, whose peak years were behind them when they took the wheel, Ten Hag is part of a group of innovators expanding the coaching frontier in 2023.

    Implementing a sophisticated tactical system that allowed Ajax to dramatically overachieve during his time at the helm, on paper he is the type of leader every ambitious, top-level player wants to work with.

    The positive effect of his coaching has been evident too. Aside from Rashford's transformation, Aaron Wan-Bissaka's career had stalled dramatically before he took over, but since the World Cup the defender has played some of his best football in the red shirt.

    Luke Shaw has come on leaps and bounds too, ably filling in at centre-back after Ten Hag spotted his potential in the position.

    The emergence of Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri has been impressive too, with the Dutchman's ability to genuinely improve players being a welcome change to years of stagnation.

    United fans will be hoping he can get similar improvements from Antony and Sancho before too long.

  6. Being flexible to get results

    Being flexible to get results

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ten Hag's United tenure so far has been the flexibility has has shown in order to get results.

    Before he took over, the tactical buzzword doing the rounds was 'verticality', with his Ajax side excelling at getting the ball forward quickly with passes through the lines. There has been some of that at Old Trafford so far, but there is still a long way to go before this is truly a side crafted in Ten Hag's image.

    So far this season, seven Premier League teams have completed more progressive passes than United, suggesting that United are being more conservative in possession than their coach would ideally want.

    For context, the Red Devils completed the fifth-most progressive passes last campaign, while their short passes per 90 minutes have remained almost exactly the same across the two seasons thus far.

    Ten Hag has been careful not to overload his side with dramatic changes to the way they play. Many top clubs have endured painful rebuilds recently, but United's success proves things can be altered slowly while remaining competitive at the top end of the Premier League table.