Erik ten Hag points to early Man Utd advantage over Chelsea & Tottenham in ‘23/24
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It’s dangerous to read too much into pre-season performances and results - especially from just one match - but there were optimistic signs from Manchester United as they began their 2023/24 preparations with a 2-0 win over Leeds United.
Wednesday’s win in Norway saw Erik ten Hag select 22 players, with a further 17 involved in June’s international fixtures set to return to training on Saturday. United began the game with a mixture of experienced professionals such as Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Jadon Sancho and new signing Mason Mount, while several promising fringe players were also incorporated in the form of Alvaro Fernandez, Kobbie Mainoo and Amad.
But at the break, all 11 were replaced by essentially an Under-21 side, with Brandon Williams the only senior professional included. It’s unlikely any of that XI will play a significant role at senior level this season, but it was another reminder of the quality United possess at underage level.
Indeed, the second-half showing was better than the first, as Noam Emeran and Joe Hugill netted the decisive goals, perhaps an indication that this youthful group are used to playing together and can regain optimum fitness levels quicker than their senior counterparts.
But across both halves Ten Hag will have been delighted how United showcased the team ‘principles’. This wasn’t United at their very best, but there were clear patterns of play, starting from the goalkeeper, with an energetic midfield that tried to play repeated passes in behind, in addition to direct, dynamic wingers, who habitually cut inside and linked with team-mates.
The Red Devils enjoyed 62 percent possession throughout the encounter, and for long spells in both halves leisurely knocked the ball around the opposition. While Ten Hag won’t get carried away with a victory over a mismatched Championship side, the ease at which his players settled into the game will undoubtedly encourage the United boss.
“I think we have seen some good things, some good stuff,” the Dutchman told MUTV after the match. “We already trained over the last year and we have a good foundation, you can see that in the game. But also some young lads come in and fitted. We are now one week training and we set the rules and the principles. We have seen some good stuff.”
That Ten Hag’s ‘rules and principles’ are already established does offer United one serious advantage over their Premier League rivals and, while Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will hope to quickly adapt to the teachings of a new coach, United should begin this season in better fettle than the last.
Despite only occupying the Old Trafford hotseat for just over a year, Ten Hag has already been in charge longer than half of the managers from the other 16 clubs who retained their Premier League status last term. Similarly to Manchester City and Arsenal, there’s also a sense at United that a hardcore of the team from 2022/23 will play a major role again this season. Varane, Martinez, Luke Shaw, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes, Antony and Marcus Rashford are expected to form the nucleus of Ten Hag’s team over the next 10 months, along with the anticipated summer arrivals.
Although there’s no escaping the uncertainty surrounding the ownership situation which has engulfed the club in recent times, on the field, at least, Ten Hag’s up-and-down first year in charge could provide a solid foundation for his second campaign in charge.