Erik ten Hag appears on a wing and a prayer as Manchester United continue on a downward curve
Erik ten Hag needs to stop coming up with excuses and address Manchester United's fall as it is.
Erik ten Hag appears to be in a state of denial in relation to what fans really want from him. Manchester United are on a massive downward curve but instead of admitting so, he is hell-bent on seeing positives when there are none or very few. The Red Devils’ hopes of qualification for the second round of the Champions League were shredded mercilessly when they split points with Turkish club Galatasaray on Wednesday. Now from here, they need a miracle of sorts to advance to the next stage.
Ten Hag, who took over the reins in 2022, has been a bit lucky. The fact the United owners declared their wish to sell the club in the middle of the season last year protected the Dutchman to some extent. The focus has been so much on who is going to buy the club that United’s deterioration on the field has not received much attention, particularly this season. Things are now changing though. Of late, fans have started to look beyond the ownership possibilities.
Presently, United are sixth on the Premier League points table. In late October and early last month they suffered massive drubbings at the hands of Manchester City and Newcastle United in the Premier League and EFL Cup respectively. Since then, they have won against Fulham, Luton and Everton, all belonging to the second half of the table. In short, these wins have come against lesser oppositions. In addition, twice they have won by a misery-evoking 1-0. In the Champions League against strong opponents… they have lost to FC Copenhagen earlier in November and then in a crucial encounter on Wednesday, they led twice by two goals before settling for a 3-3 draw. This was nothing new, they have squandered their lead before in Europe’s top club competition this season.
Ten Hag has owned up to his mistakes. But how sincere he is, there is no knowing. In a post-match interview with TNT Sports, he takes the blame. But it could only be an attempt to buy time. "It's always me. I am responsible for this. We know we are in a project. We are making improvements, so that's very hopeful. We are going in the right direction so I know we will be successful in the long-term, but if you want to stay in the Champions League you need to win these games,” he said.
Some may agree that the club is going in the right direction since he helped it achieve a third-place finish in the Premier League last season but for a club that has been most successful in the last three decades in English football, finishing second, third or fourth has no real relevance.
Anyway, compared to winners Manchester City and second-placed Arsenal, their performance last season left a lot to be desired with 58 goals scored by them and 43 scored against them across 38 matches. They were a distant third to all intents and purposes. Fans want the club to win trophies. Post the Alex-Ferguson era, they have won just four trophies (2023 League Cup being the latest) in a decade and none of them is a Premier League or a Champions League trophy.
United is one of the greatest clubs in the world that boasts a rare following across continents. Probably, only Brazil’s national football teams of the past could match this popularity. The 53-year-old, fifth permanent appointment at the club since Ferguson’s retirement, has to understand anything less than a major trophy won’t satiate the ever-ravenous United fans. The club now needs to beat the undefeated group leaders Bayern Munich later this month and hope FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray play out a draw at the same time. It’s a tall order. They don’t have their destiny in their own hands anymore. The next few days are crucial for ten Hag. He can’t afford an early exit in the Champions League since the Premier League is going to be a much harder task.