There hasn’t been a lot to smile about for Manchester United fans this season. However, United’s 1-0 win away at Craven Cottage last weekend saw Erik ten Hag equal the record for fewest number of games taken to reach 50 wins in charge of the Red Devils. Many have already written off the Dutchman’s short career at Old Trafford, but there might just be some life in ten Hag yet.
Ten Hag ties the record
It’s been a relatively bleak start to the new season for Manchester United. The 1-0 defeat at home against Crystal Palace in September marked their worst start to a season in over three decades. Those looking to bet on sports online will now find them at 250/1 to claim the Premier League title, trailing Manchester City (1/2), Liverpool (11/2), Arsenal (6/1), Tottenham (9/1), Newcastle (40/1), and even Aston Villa (80/1) and West Ham (150/1)!
The poor start has led to plenty of doubts over the manager’s future. He was even tipped as one of the leading Premier League managers likely to lose their job in the Paddy Power news. However, Bruno Fernandes’ late winner against Fulham on matchday 11 saw Erik ten Hag draw level as the fastest manager in the history of the club to reach 50 victories. The former Ajax coach tied Ernest Mangnall’s record, which had stood for 118 years, taking 79 games to reach the milestone.
While there are undoubtedly glaring issues on and off the pitch, it’s not all doom and gloom at Old Trafford. Erik ten Hag is in some ways the victim of his own success. His first season in the northwest saw United qualify for the Champions League, win a major trophy, and reach the FA Cup final. Had he failed to hit the ground running, fans would likely have been more tolerant of the teething issues.
Injury-plagued start to the 2023/24 season
It is also worth noting that Ten Hag has not had his strongest eleven available at any point this season as a result of United’s extensive injury list. Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane – two stalwarts at the heart of United’s defence last season – have not featured together since August, with the Argentine now facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Ten Hag has also been forced to employ makeshift left-backs as a result of Luke Shaw’s injury.
Not only has the defence been impacted, but as a result of Casemiro’s recent hamstring injury, United will be light in midfield for the foreseeable future. When you also factor in the injuries to emerging young prospects, Ten Hag has had limited options.
Plenty of match-winners in ten Hag’s ranks
Despite not operating at a consistently elite level on the pitch, United will always fancy their chances of victory due to the number of match-winners in their squad. Captain Fernandes’ special goal against Fulham was a reminder of what he is capable of, and his 124 goal involvements in 200 appearances highlights his ability to drag the Reds to three points.
It also feels like a matter of time before Marcus Rashford finds his form. He was being talked about as one of the best wingers in the world last season when he registered 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions. Should United start to move through the gears and find some confidence, Rashford could be one of the first to hit a purple patch.
Ten Hag has a lot of work to do, there is no doubt about that. But there have been promising signs during his tenure at Old Trafford. It’s been a slow start, but if they can get back a fully firing, fit squad, they could well turn things around in the new year.