Manchester United It will never be 5000-1 – the odds you could have of winning the Leicester title at the start of the 2015-16 season – to finish at the top of the English pyramid, but equally, no one would have picked Erik ten Hag as a potential league winner in his first campaign in responsibility, especially after such a disastrous start.
There was a disregard for United’s chances even as the points piled up – the squad was weak, the fixture list was bland, Arsenal Too advanced. All of these concerns are legitimate.
However, there is an inescapable feeling that beating Pep Guardiola’s side means United must be taken seriously.
Leicester beat City 3-1 seven years ago Put them in the clear five points. United are not in the same position. They are one point behind City and six ahead of Arsenal, having played a game more. But the momentum that had been building since losing 6-3 in the reverse fixture just got a boost for the Jet Propulsion.
United have won nine consecutive matches in all competitions, their longest run since 2016-17 under Jose Mourinho. You have to go back to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson for 10 in a row.
Those nine matches featured opponents from the Championship and First Division, but winning is a habit and that can translate to the Premier League. The principles demonstrated in getting ahead of Charlton in the Carabao Cup were evidence against City: back up team mates in attack, track runners in defence, and pass forward when possible.
Against City, United’s possession (29 per cent) was significantly reduced, but it was not a negative performance. They seemed to hurt City when they were on the ball, as evidenced by the quick passes from Bruno Fernandez And Christian Eriksen for Monday Marcus Rashford Chances in the first half. Tin Hag had called for this beforehand.
Courage were his key words. This was absent in Union strikes, with players cautioned against going too far.
Ten Hag has modified his style at Old Trafford, adding unique as an additional midfielder, but stuck to the same idea.
“In possession, you both give each other options, scanning, making the right decisions, going forward where possible,” he said before the game. “Drive, be forward, be aggressive. As a team, work together, so they have the same ideas in every situation. That’s courage.”
Fred is assigned to watch over the men Kevin De Bruyne. His request was greeted noisily in the first half when he twice stripped the Belgian. Eriksen, in the No. 10 role, was assigned to help hustle Rodri, who was less effective in City’s midfield base as a result. Rashford and Fernandes, on the wings, sprinted back deep into their own half when tracking down the two full-backs Kyle Walker And Joao Cancelo.
Following runners is nothing new, but the intensity spoke to the authority in the training instructions. There are consequences to actions under the Ten Hag. Being late for a team meeting is punishable by a place on the bench. Failure to commit to a defensive action will see the same fate.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been cut adrift After his presence was judged to be overburdening Ten Hag’s ship. United’s running stats plummeted at Brentford, Ronaldo’s first start.
On the flip side, players know that good performance will be rewarded. Lisandro Martinez He’s just off the team because he went on and won world Cup With Argentina. He is the competitor for the player of the season, but in his absence, Luke Shaw And Tyrell Malacia He did well, so Tin Hag will continue to pick them. Martinez, like his teammates, understands logic. There is a competitive advantage to the choices.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka He came to the team due to an injury Diogo DalotAnd now he plays as if his career depended on it. In addition to his clip zigzagging through three City players, sending Rodri sprawling, it was his pass that set up United’s equaliser.
He specifically clipped the ball between Bernando Silva and Cancelo until when Casemiro I got it, Nathan Ack He had to move to guard Anthony. Manuel Akanji They moved too, leaving a gap for Fernandez to run into.
Rashford was offside but Fernandes was sharp in that moment to score and immediately protested to the officials. If it does not, there is a possibility that the target is not allowed. Fernandez also asked referee Stuart Atwill to pause the match in the first half when Malacia fell after hitting his head on the turf. Fernandez gets criticized for his style but this kind of game management is crucial in successful teams.
The second goal showed the cunning of a teenager. Alejandro Garnacho Rashford realized he was in space in the box after Akanji blocked his cross, so he turned sharply and shot low with his left hand.
– Manchester United (ManUtd) January 14, 2023
Rashford was still wracked by the pain of a thigh injury that appeared to force him off at half-time. Instead, Ten Hag was replaced Anthony Marcial With Anthony and telling Rashford to be economical with his explosive moves.
Ten Hag trains its players through matches. When Malacia went down, he took advantage of the break to chat in detail with Casemiro and Raphael Varane. After, after Jack Grealish He scored a goal, spoke to Eriksen and then at length to Fred, putting his arm around the Brazilian. Fred played the pass for Fernandez, who released Garnacho for the winner.
Before United equalized, Ten Hag was preparing to serve Scott McTominay and Martinez. He explained afterwards that McTomrinay had to bring the energy up and Martinez would release Shaw to the fullback for the crosses. But these choices reveal the shallow depth of attacking quality in Ten Hag’s squad.
Rashford’s injury could see him protected for Crystal Palace match on Wednesday. Martial doesn’t look quite fit.
Looks like a fragile team that is challenging for the title.
With these players, is United’s squad worse than the one available to Mikel Arteta?
Statistical requirements for English Premier League title contenders It has been explained elsewhere. Context matters, though. Liverpool And Chelsea get stuck in a big way. spurs were incomplete.
Medina is a juggernaut who knows how to grab a title, but not everything seems to be right. Guardiola was very insinuating Erling Halland When City were 1-0 up, apparently they wanted more dynamism behind them. Haaland kind of shrugged his shoulders. Guardiola admitted afterwards that he wanted Haaland to be more closely associated with his team-mates.
So where does that leave United?
The nice match list clearly helped with this run, and four competitions might be too much. On the back of their worst season in the Premier League, they are well ahead of schedule.
They beat City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. It is time to seize this moment.
Ten Hag is a realist amid intoxicating optimism.
“The fans may dream but we have to keep our feet on the ground and face our game that has a lot to improve,” he said. “It can’t happen that after half-time we lose too much control of the game. In big football, small details have a big impact – we have to keep working on that.”
(Top photo: Sean Bottrell/Getty Images)