Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Erik ten Hag to Manchester United: What Ajax boss could bring with his style of play to the Premier League

Erik ten Hag of Ajax will be offered the Manchester United managerial role, according to ESPN. One of the worst-kept secrets to come out of the international break has the Manchester United managerial search heating up. Ralf Rangnick was hired on a six-month contract as the manager which came with a two-year consultation role ahead of the new season. At the time, it wouldn’t have been farfetched to imagine a scenario where he would be recommended to stay put as manager, but disappointing results led the club to look elsewhere and a deal for ten Hag is now reportedly almost complete.

Manchester United are in need of a culture shift and ten Hag is a good person to bring that to the forefront with his system. His Ajax side plays a possession-based game that would bode well and bring an attractive style of football to Old Trafford. Ajax didn’t go as far in Champions League this season despite a fantastic group-stage showing — knocked out by Benfica in the round of 16 — but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern when it comes to his ability to turn things around at Manchester United.

Along with ten Hag, Mauricio Pochettino was also considered a top candidate for the job, though his team’s performances in big moments this season did not exactly strengthen his case. Crashing out of the Champions League with a star-studded PSG squad by blowing an early lead against Real Madrid may have certainly left a sour note on his resume and made his miracle run with Tottenham Hotspur to the final feel like it has been buried in yesteryear. Pair that with falling out of the Coupe de France to Nice via penalty kicks, and it would be easy to understand why United decided Pochettino and his teams have too much history of wilting when the lights shine the brightest.

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The big question will be how ten Haag handles the jump from the Netherlands to the Premier League along with how the board will back him. The talent is certainly there and he’s built Ajax into an unbeatable Dutch team which can usually punch above their weight in the Champions League. The usual questions of style remain as well. Will the players support a manager — one now with an expected long-term contract — with a particular tactical style of play? Among Premier League teams, United have the fourth-fewest tackles in the attacking half and the ninth-most recoveries in the attacking half this season, and ten Hag enters as a manager who likes to press.

Things will need to change when it comes to pressures, as he’ll want his team to do similar things to Rangnick, who has not proven to be successful in squeezing out of this side at the moment. For a United team that has been under turmoil for the past few years, this could be a new dawn as they bring someone with a fresh perspective, but the risk of it being yet another false one remains.

What needs to improve?

It’s a long list, so where to begin? The key areas to focus on probably starts with them putting away their chances. Manchester United boast the Premier League’s joint leader in chances created in Bruno Fernandes with 77, but he only has six assists on the season. The Red Devils have only scored 49 goals despite fielding a squad that includes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. While the lack of scoring has in part been due to Rangnick wanting to tone down the attack for the sake of a better defensive record, ten Hag will need to balance both.

At Ajax, their best defense has been possession of the ball and the attractive style would be an easy way to warm United supporters to the new manager. The midfield still needs work with Nemanja Matic, Fred, and Scott McTominay being possible liabilities in a high-possession system, but the hope would be that transfer funds are available to ten Hag to get reinforcements there.

That brings us to the United roster, which has a ton of midfield talent. The entire defense could be in need of a refresh. The fullbacks are all strong in different ways but upgrades are needed if you want to make a push for the Premier League title that the Old Trafford faithful so desperately crave.

While hiring ten Hag would be great on paper, all things circle back to the board. If they fail to fully support him the way they have with Rangnick, it will lead to more of the same issues that have been experienced since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

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