Manchester United and Erik ten Hag’s problems this season have been exasperated by the addition of two new signings.
Of course, you can’t deny that injury problems have been a huge concern and limitation for the club. And there’s also been many different issues across the board at Old Trafford.
Now, to preface this, I am not arguing against the signing of either player and actually believe both can be key players for United and Ten Hag going forward in the long term.
Yet, their presence at the club has highlighted different issues that many fans, and perhaps those at the club, did not expect.
Firstly, the goalkeeper. Now, it is clear that an upgrade on David de Gea was needed and that’s what United got. They purchased one of the best goalkeepers in the world and arguably the best with the ball at his feet.
Moving from De Gea to Onana, though, was one of the biggest stylistic changes any club could make in a single transfer. Now, United are aiming to adjust their game to playing more with the ball at the back and progressing through the thirds. And there are mistakes.
You can also argue that the personnel is not ideal. Luke Shaw, one of United’s best build-up players, has been injured since the second game of the campaign, whilst Lisandro Martinez struggled whilst playing with a knock and is now back on the treatment table.
Many others in those deeper areas aren’t entirely comfortable in these situations and so Onana’s world-class attribute is being limited. The main problem is that this should’ve been a first-season issue for United.
As mentioned, a drastic change in the style of goalkeeper will lead to a change in your build-up, and mistakes come as the team look to adapt. It happened to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. It should’ve really been happening to Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United last season. They might not have done as well, but it leaves you with a more solid base for the second season.
Moving onto Hojlund, and he’s looked exciting in the opening games despite the results but it’s still clear to see that United are not used to having that profile there.
There is slightly more understanding with this change than the one between the sticks; we’ve seen players start playing into the feet of the Dane as he looks to hold the ball up, but a minimal amount of runners so he can look to link when in those situations (like in the build-up to Alejandro Garnacho’s disallowed goal against Arsenal), often leaving him isolated.
But we’re seeing the change now have knock-on effects elsewhere. Marcus Rashford looks somewhat confused about whether he should shoot or pass when entering dangerous zones, whilst Bruno Fernandes is struggling to directly find the 20-year-old with passes. All while Hojlund lacks many opportunities to pounce on.
There is chemistry to be made and United must look to create more opportunities in cutback/low-crossing situations inside the box. It’s how they’ve conceded around half of their goals this term and is the kind of chance that strikers like Hojlund feed on.
United are in a sticky situation at the moment and some of Ten Hag’s issues have been highlighted by the fact that they do not look like they were ready to supply a proper no.9 and build from the back with a world-class ball-playing goalkeeper.
Of course, Onana and Hojlund have both had their individual problems during their short United career so far too, but it remains clear that they will bear fruit at Old Trafford once the team gels.
In an ideal world, however, this would’ve happened last season. And that’s one of Ten Hag’s problems.
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