After a turbulent start to the campaign, Manchester United appear to have turned a corner, and they are far from a laughing stock now. While we and many other top sportsbooks were quick to document the Red Devils’ troubles, United may have found a manager that can steer them through the choppy waters. Well, that’s judging by their last couple of performances at least against Tottenham and Chelsea anyway.
What does the Erik ten Hag project look like?
For years, Sir Alex Ferguson has cast a shadow over Old Trafford. Ever since retiring in 2013, United have frittered their way through managers trying to find the perfect solution. Naturally, Ferguson left a huge void when he stepped down as he enjoyed unparalleled success during his 27-year spell. Of course, there will have been many that would have had reservations about Ten Hag despite what he achieved at Ajax. Defeats against Brighton and Brentford prompted cause for concern and there would have been collective groans from the United faithful, but they seem to have a clear identity.
United look more fluid moving forward, and they strengthened in the right areas over the summer. If we are to provide a snapshot, then United look more convincing and they are trying to press high up the pitch, and he is starting to win the fans over.Certainly, Ten Hag would like to see his side up the goal tally having managed just 16 from 11 EPL games. Nevertheless, they are building momentum as they are undefeated in their past six matches in all competitions.
Getting their rivals out of the way
Clubs are usually at the mercy of the fixture computer, but United have already played all the traditional top six, picking up some excellent results along the way.
The Red Devils eased past Liverpool, clinically dismantled Arsenal with a 3-1 win, and produced one of their best performances of the season in their 2-0 victory over Tottenham. Their display against Chelsea also merited more than the point they took away from Stamford Bridge, given the possession they had and the chances they created. But in four matches against fellow ‘big six’ opposition, United have amassed 10 points, whereas last season, they managed just 11 points from 10 matches.
With the World Cup on the horizon, United will want to keep pace with those in and around them, and they have some eminently winnable fixtures coming up against West Ham, Aston Villa, and Fulham. This is a chance to put more points on the board and Ten Hag can win more credit from the board with some polished displays.
Let’s talk about Bruno
If there was one player that looked to have fallen off a cliff at the start of the campaign was Bruno Fernandes. At times, the Portuguese international was guilty of trying too hard and trying to win games single-handedly.
But he produced a magnificent display against Tottenham, and there were a few stats that summed up Fernandes and United in a nutshell:
- In a typically all-action display, Fernandes ran more than any other team-mate, covering over 12km.
- He posted a league-high of nine chances, which was more than anybody so far this campaign.
- United managed 14 shots from outside the penalty area in the first half — the most of any first half since Opta began collecting records in 2003/04.
Perhaps United look more balanced in midfield, and that is in part down to Casemiro. The Brazilian is a classy operator and he acts as a good buffer. He gives Fernandes and Christian Eriksen a license to roam free, and United now have a more defined style of play which makes them more exciting to watch.
Cristiano Ronaldo the distraction
To a certain extent, Cristiano Ronaldo has proved a distraction. His petulance in storming down the tunnel after refusing to come on as a substitute against Tottenham was not becoming of one of the game’s eldest statesmen. Ronaldo was duly punished for his behavior as he was dropped for the clash with Chelsea, and he has sometimes caused rifts in the first team.
His second homecoming was supposed to be memorable, but things have spiraled out of control over the past few months. What may be startling is that United have averaged more points per game when Ronaldo doesn’t start (over two), and if anything, the Portugual superstar is a hindrance as opposed to a help. If anything, Ronaldo being on the periphery of things has been a blessing in disguise. In many respects, Ronaldo has been half a yard or so short of the pace when he plays and he can’t press in the manner he used to do. Chelsea have been rumored to be lining up a move for Ronaldo, and maybe United should listen to offers.
There are a few ingredients missing if United are going to get back to the heights of yesteryear, and arguably, they need a proven striker in their ranks. Marcus Rashford has performed well in patches, but he’s not deadly, and the same can be said of Anthony Martial.
The World Cup will act as a window to run the rule over potential stars. There have been murmurings of Aleksandar Mitrovic, but he will be key for Fulham if they are going to push on. Surely, Ten Hag and his coaching staff will have been working on targets and they will need to strike while the iron is hot when the transfer window reopens.
In the meantime, a top four spot and a domestic trophy of sorts will be warmly welcomed this season. United have seen their odds shorten to finish in the top four, and you can find an eye-catching price of +100 advertised by FanDuel. And the same operator is offering odds of +230 for them to win any of the EPL, FA Cup, League Cup & Europa League, which shouldn’t be sniffed at.