Erik ten Hag’s Man Utd future – Andy Mitten has another argument with himself

The bitter argument between Andy Mitten and his nemesis, Andrew Mitten, continues on whether Manchester United should keep Erik ten Hag.

Andrew: You’re not so upbeat now, are you? Giving it the big one only three weeks ago after the Liverpool cup game, eh? And what has happened since? Brentford was abysmal. United cannot defend a lead. We saw that again at Chelsea and Liverpool. United led in all three and picked up two points.

Manchester United are sixth, 21 points behind City and 22 behind Arsenal and Liverpool. Their goal difference is -1. United have lost 12 league games out of 31. Luton Town, on a budget of a bag of peanuts, have scored as many goals as United. And let me remind you, once again, since we’re in Champions League week: United went out of this competition with one win from six games.

Andy: Calm down. Things can turn quickly in football. The next league games are against Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Burnley. There’s an FA Cup semi-final against Coventry City to look forward to.

Andrew: Look up and an 11-point gap to make up on Tottenham and Aston Villa in fourth and fifth with only seven games left is huge. That might as well be 12 points given the shocking goal difference.

Andy: It’s not good, granted. Brentford was a shocker, though Chelsea was a top game of football. Liverpool was more encouraging, with two fine goals.

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United were poor at Brentford (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Andrew: Was it? Liverpool battered United in the first half. It was embarrassing, just as it was in the second half of the cup game at Old Trafford.

Andy: I wasn’t embarrassed watching Liverpool fail to beat United for a third consecutive game. Ten Hag has played five games against Liverpool as United manager and he’s only lost one, though I forget the scoreline.

Andrew: Stats can prove anything. You’re clutching at them to mask a terrible season. Look at where the top teams are this week, playing European football. Magnificent games. Manchester United are nowhere. Idiots told me that was a positive because the team could train properly and concentrate on fewer games. That worked out well. I can’t understand why Ten Hag was upbeat last week.

Andy: Maybe because he’s confident he’ll be given time to do the job he’s started. A lot of big clubs will change managers this summer. It adds to their uncertainty. Liverpool would rather not have the problem of finding a new manager, Barcelona too. United have someone who did very well in his first season, less so in his second — though there’s mitigation with injuries. But who is the standout and who would come? It’s not clear-cut.

If it came to a change, I like Luis Enrique and Xavi and though neither have worked in England, both would love to. But how long would another new manager want? We’re back into the cycle we’ve been in for over a decade. I’m OK — though conflicted – with Ten Hag for now.

The latest on Ten Hag…

Andrew: I’m sick of seeing teams cutting through United’s middle and having loads of chances. The idea that the manager is not concerned about the chances the team gives up is nonsense. He’s trying to convince people it’s OK and doubling down when it isn’t. It’s completely unsustainable. None of the best teams in the world play like this. I thought that Ten Hag was all about attention to detail and control. A house made of jelly looks more stable than this.

Andy: If Ten Hag is to survive, United need to change. He knows this. Better results, more goals. Sixth will never be good enough for United. He needs the players he wants, but the tactical issue cuts to the heart of whether Ten Hag will work out or not.

Andrew: Ten Hag has searched all season for a turning point and there hasn’t been one. But let’s look at the trip to the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal are one of the best teams in the world but I was in the away end and I’ve never seen United so defensive. Ten Hag reckons it nearly came off, yet while United had moments and a good penalty shout, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to say Arsenal were worth a win.

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Ten Hag felt his side were good at Arsenal (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The manager needs all the players on board and I’m not convinced they are. Ten Hag talks about control a lot yet the strengths of United’s best players are not necessarily to play in a controlled style. Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes thrive on individual moments. Should he be working on a strategy where control isn’t worked on as much? Because it’s not working. This is complex and complicated because it’s also on the players, who are taking too many risks.

When they lose the ball, they turn moments of familiarity planned in training into a transition for the other team. That leads to more running, loss of control and the punk football we’re seeing.

Andy: On the positives, he’s also not afraid to be bold and introduce young players. Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and, to a lesser extent, Willy Kambwala. Will they be players who play 20 games for United or 200? I don’t know.

There are good young kids at United from a youth system that is working well again too.

He’s improved Diogo Dalot, I’m far happier with Andre Onana. I like Rasmus Hojlund.

Andrew: Hmmm. Would any United player walk into any of the top teams in the league? And I don’t think he has the charisma to be United manager.

Andy: He’s a football manager, not a performing monkey. Everything he says — more than any other United manager — is scrutinised and twisted. He’s operating in his second or third language in a country where he’s still adjusting to the media landscape.

He’s also had serious issues to deal with at every turn. He can hardly be laughing along when he’s asked about takeovers (another hindrance), Mason Greenwood, Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho or whatever. I think he’s handled most of those decisions well. Both of his bosses, Richard Arnold and John Murtough, have left. Coaches have left. Key members of staff are worried about their jobs.

Yes, he’s serious but he’s a man of integrity and he shows humour when he’s relaxed. He’s also serious about doing this for the long haul. Serious about proving everyone wrong who said he shouldn’t take this ‘impossible’ job.

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Ten Hag has been defiant about United’s style of play (Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Andrew: His signings haven’t been convincing. He’s underestimated the Premier League. Antony was an astonishing waste of money. Sofyan Amrabat isn’t good enough. Others are injury-prone.

Andy: Some have. Antony’s fee wasn’t on Antony, more United’s desperation to buy him. And don’t give up on him just yet. He has been poor but he was United’s best player at Chelsea last week.

Ten Hag should keep his job. If it’s like it is now in November, that won’t be good enough. United need to be in a title race next season. He’ll have had more than two years. He’s delivered a trophy, something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t — though Solskjaer is right when he says he didn’t get the recognition for his organised attacks and defending. Other managers complimented United on their tactical approach with and without the ball under him.


Andrew: What exactly is ‘Ten Hag ball’?

Andy: OK, people are unsure what it is. My best answer is what we saw at the start of 2023. A strong finish to the season and an FA Cup win will get people smiling again. Then judge him after a season of working under an experienced sports director, where decisions are made more quickly because the slowness under the Glazers was an issue. Let him bring in the players he wants this summer, a striker, a top midfielder. It truly will be his team.

(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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