How has Erik ten Hag transformed Manchester United into a major force?


After a difficult start to 12 months and a disastrous start to the current campaign, Manchester United finally found their feet under the management of Erik ten Haag. The Red Devils are slowly but steadily adopting the Dutchman’s methods. This is starting to reflect on the pitch, with United making life extremely difficult for their opponents. Man United are not only playing well against the teams they want to beat but also giving a good account of themselves against the big shots in the country.

It may still be early in the reign of the ten haags but the positives are clearly visible for all to see. Manchester United are not only getting results but also starting to play a better brand of football. Signs of this progress were evident at the start of the season, however, and could be seen more clearly in recent matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. United got four points from them but it was more about the performance than the result which pleased many supporters.

These two sides are not easy to play against yet Manchester United have done well in patches to dominate them or at least take them toe to toe. The Red Devils were particularly impressive during a 2–0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, described by many as United’s most complete performance under Ten Haag. Man United dominated from start to finish and were full value for the three points. The mood around Old Trafford is extremely positive and credit must be given to Ten Haag for turning the tide.

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A look back at Erik ten Haag’s career

The 52-year-old Dutchman was not a prolific player during his playing days but still managed to build a decent career. Erik ten Haag was a defender who excelled at passing the ball. He played for Dutch team FC Twente for most of his career. He played for the team in three phases and also won the KNVB Cup during the 2000–2001 season. Ten Haag has also represented FC Utrecht, RKC Waalwijk and De Graafschap. Additionally, during the 1990–91 season, he won the Eerste Divisie with De Graafschap.

Ten Haag announced his retirement after the conclusion of the 2001–2002 Eredivisie season, playing for FC Twente. He was 32 years old. It was during his coaching days that the Dutchman really started making a name for himself. In 2012 Ten Haag entered the management ranks with the Go Ahead Eagles of the second division. In just one season, he helped the Go Ahead Eagles win their first promotion in 17 years.

club Duration Matchbox Victory To make a picture Harm
go ahead Eagles July 2012-June 2013 39 18 1 1 10
Bayern Munich II June 2013-May 2015 72 48 10 14
FC Utrecht May 2015-Dec 2017 111 56 26 29
afc ajax December 2017-May 2022 215 158 28 29
gross 437 280 75 82

After that, he became the manager of the reserve squad of the German powerhouse, Bayern Munich II. Ten Haag met Pep Guardiola, the manager of Bayern Munich at the time, while living in Germany. Erik ten Haag has discussed many times in the past how much of an influence Guardiola has been on him during his time with the German club. He then returned to FC Utrecht after two years in the Eredivisie. In the 2016–17 season, he guided the team to a fourth-place finish, earning them a place in the Europa League qualifying round.

In a file photo, Erik ten Haag; Credit: [email protected]

How has Erik ten Haag changed Manchester United?

Before Ten Haag took over Manchester United, the team’s gameplay was predictable. From formation to player positions, movements and style of play, United seemed too predictable on the pitch. This made it easier for opposition coaches to figure out tactics and were able to set their teams accordingly to reduce United’s threat. This was clearly evident in many games last season, as the Red Devils kept moving the ball to the side or back without adequately threatening the opposition defence.

This made it easier for Manchester United to play at Old Trafford or away from home. All the opposition had to do was sit deep and maintain a solid defensive shape. Even though Man United had the majority of possession, they struggled to break down the compact defence. And when United lost the ball, opposing teams prepared their players to make rapid charges at United’s goalpost and hit them on the counterattack. The leaky nature of Manchester United’s defense meant that opposition teams always had chances to score against them. This was evident in the 57 goals United conceded in the league last season.

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So, when Erik ten Haag took charge of the club he had a lot to do. From defense to attack, the team was in need of a tactical overhaul. To add to this, he also seemed to lack self-belief and confidence, as United had ended the previous season with a poor run of results. To the Dutchman’s annoyance, United began the current campaign in the same jarring fashion. The Red Devils lost their opening two Premier League games, including an embarrassing 4–0 defeat at Brentford. Ten Haag was already feeling the heat, however, and the 52-year-old didn’t let the pressure get him down.

Manchester United players celebrate a goal against Liverpool;  Credits: Twitter@ManUtd
In a file photo, Manchester United players; Credit: [email protected]

Erik ten Haag quickly adapts to the Premier League

Rather than stick to his tried and tested philosophy, Ten Haag was willing to give up certain aspects of his game. Manchester United – temporarily – stopped playing from behind. Instead of passing the ball to Lisandro Martínez, David de Gea was shooting his goal kick long. It was a welcome move after what happened at Brentford the week before. United invited trouble on several occasions after failing to play the ball out of the back. Ten Haag was not prepared to take a second chance.

He also made some shocking decisions with his squad selection. The Dutchman dropped captain Harry Maguire and prolific forward Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench. A bold move aimed at giving the team a lot of momentum on the defensive and in the final third. Ten Haag’s gamble paid off! First, Manchester United defeated old-rivals Liverpool. They followed this with three more wins on the bounce, including one against league leaders Arsenal. The Gunners have lost only one match in the league so far this season.

What is Manchester United’s style of play?

As expected United were not able to maintain the winning streak for long, with the team facing a few problems along the way. However, overall progress has been positive. In recent games, Manchester United are now not only getting results, but also starting to play their own brand of football. They are beginning to dominate teams with and without the ball. De Gea is more comfortable passing the ball from behind rather than always going long with his goal kicks.

Erik ten Haag’s team are often known for their work rate with and without the ball. They have a fluid system in which players change position as they keep the ball in the middle third but move it quickly in the final third. Once the opposition win the ball, they will press them intensely as a unit to quickly win the ball back. Many of these strategies are beginning to be reflected in Manchester United’s gameplay.

File photo of Manchester United's training session;  Credit: Twitter/@ManUtd
File photo of Manchester United’s training session; Credit: Twitter/@ManUtd

The Red Devils start the matches in a big way by lifting the opposition teams up the pitch. This was clearly evident in the games against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. This approach unsettles the opposition and helps give Manchester United an early advantage. Furthermore, United are not only making sideways passes, but also making a lot of quick forward passes, made possible through their excellent movement without the ball. Overall, as a defensive unit, Man United have the better shape of them, making it difficult for opposition attackers to create chances or score against them.

How have Manchester United done in the big matches?

The best thing about the changes brought in by Ten Haag is that Manchester United are not only playing well but are also competing on an equal footing against the bigger clubs. It all started with an inspiring 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford. United were expected to lose the match badly at home but the grit, determination and grit shown by the players in following their manager’s instructions and giving their all on the pitch was lauded by many after the match .

This was the only major result United failed to produce this season. They ended a winning start to the campaign by beating Arsenal 3–1 at home. He then faced a massive reality check during the 6–3 drubbing by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. However, United bounced back from that blow in style and went on a seven-match unbeaten run. During this period, they also impressively beat Tottenham Hotspur 2–0 at home and provided a late fightback to hold Chelsea to a 1–1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

protest against manchester united Result (2021-22) Result (2022-23)
Liverpool (H) 0-5(L) 2-1(W)
Tottenham Hotspur (HK) 3-2 (W) 2-0 (W)
Arsenal (H) 3-2 (W) 3-1 (W)
Chelsea (A) 1-1 1-1
Manchester City (A) 1-4 (L) 3-6(L)
Total points from these matches 7 10

Compared to last season…

In similar fixtures last season, Manchester United defeated Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. But on both the occasions, they needed the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo to get the maximum points. Ronaldo scored a double against the Gunners and a hat-trick against Spurs. Meanwhile, they were lucky to play out a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge last season. This performance was nothing compared to the way United have played this season. This time though, the Red Devils could consider themselves unlucky not to get all three points, reflecting the improvement in the team’s performance level.

Even the two wins were due to individual brilliance rather than overall team performance. But the biggest difference was in the way he performed against Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Manchester United 5-0 at Old Trafford last season – a result that signaled the beginning of the end for former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In contrast, a 2-1 win over Liverpool this August paved the way for the England arrival of Erik ten Haag to be announced. Since then, neither he nor the team has looked back as Manchester United is on the right track of a brilliant future.



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