Man Utd win v Everton demonstrated Erik ten Hag’s biggest achievement at Old Trafford

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Alejandro Garnacho was applauded off the pitch after Manchester United’s 2-0 win - his contributions are proving invaluable.

Amongst the negativity and speculation that surrounds Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, it’s easy to overlook the positive effects the Dutchman has had at Old Trafford.

A third-place finish, a return to the Champions League, the first piece of silverware in six years, instilling a greater sense of squad discipline and helping to guide the team through those murky takeover waters have, at times, been all but forgotten about.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But perhaps the greatest long-term impact will be the development of three highly impressive young players. Kobbie Mainoo, Rasmus Hojlund and Alejandro Garnacho - all aged 21 and under - have been arguably United’s three best-performing players since the turn of the year, with that now famous picture of the trio plonked on the advertising hoardings serving as an embodiment of the team’s encouraging future.

Of that precocious triumvirate, it’s Garnacho whose influence has been most consistently seen throughout the campaign. The attacker has now started the last 25 games in all competitions, staggering numbers for a 19-year-old, and the longest run of any senior United player.

He ranks third for outfield players with the most minutes this season, and, excluding Andre Onana, no United team-mate has played more games in 2023/24.

Those numbers are even more impressive given this time two years ago Garnacho still hadn’t made his first-team debut, was publicly criticised by Ten Hag at the start of last season and started just 14 games in the Dutchman’s maiden campaign at Old Trafford. Even the current season didn’t begin brilliantly for the aerodynamic Argentine, who, after starting the first two league matches, was dropped for the next eight amid an underwhelming start to the new term.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But since November he’s been an integral part of Ten Hag’s side and, in truth, too much responsibility has been placed on those juvenile shoulders. Against Everton on Saturday, his input proved vital as United collected a valuable three points in the hunt for the Champions League places. Garnacho was applauded off the field by an adoring Old Trafford crowd after another game-changing contribution.

Garnacho won two penalties in the first half following fouls by James Tarkowski and Ben Godfrey - moments that proved decisive as Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford struck from the spot. Garnacho passionately pumped his fists in the direction of the Stretford End when each spot-kick was awarded, during a virtuoso showing that is starting to become more and more frequent from the youth-team graduate. At times, it feels like if Garnacho can’t win games, who else can?

He should probably have been given a third penalty when his cross struck the arm of Vitaliy Mykolenko just before the break. That surely would have set some form of individual Premier League record, on an afternoon when experienced top-flight defenders simply couldn’t find a way to stop this tireless teen.

Alejandro Garnacho was applauded off the pitch by United fans on Saturday.Alejandro Garnacho was applauded off the pitch by United fans on Saturday.
Alejandro Garnacho was applauded off the pitch by United fans on Saturday. | Manchester United via Getty Imag

“I love to work with Garnacho,” was Ten Hag’s unequivocal post-match verdict. “He is very brave and very confident and our job is to push him to high levels. Of course he is doing this, he has high potential and now we have to get the potential out, and therefore you have to work day by day.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet, Ten Hag feels there’s so much more to come from the burgeoning talent. “You need that experience. You don’t know that you have to perform every training session if you want to get better because there are so many areas for them [young players] to improve their game. Football is a very complicated game and you need a lot of skills to be the best.

“I think he can [do it every week] and it is only about him, if he can keep the focus and if he puts the right effort in, in the game but also during the week, if he keeps that focus. He is able to and when he keeps this focus he will improve from game to game, that’s what we see in this moment. We are very pleased with his performance.”

Sceptics may wonder if there’s a hidden meaning behind those comments, especially for a player whose attitude has been questioned by his manager and captain in the last 18 months - but on the field, despite his growing influence, there’s no doubting that United’s no.17 has room for improvement. 

There are still inconsistencies in his game and week-to-week performances can vary widely. Seven goals and three assists from 37 appearances aren’t quite groundbreaking numbers yet, and adding more punch to go alongside the electrifying dribbles will undoubtedly be the next area of improvement.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At 19, not yet being the complete package will be forgiven, though.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that Garnahco’s contributions in recent weeks may have kept his manager in a job. Braces against Aston Villa and West Ham United were invaluable, as was his double penalty award on Saturday. He was also United’s most promising attacking threat in the 2-1 loss to Fulham and impressed in the wins at Luton Town in Wolverhampton Wanderers in the last six weeks.

That his recent run of form has come from the right wing, and not his preferred role on the left, is also reason for optimism, and it shows a sense of selflessness that has been lacking in this United squad over the last few years.

Garnacho is undeniably a vastly greater asset now than the one Ten Hag inherited just over two years ago, and his development is one of the manager’s greatest achievements at United. Whether he is the man to reap the rewards of that arduous 18-month journey is another matter.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.