Erik ten Hag, the Dutch mastermind at the helm of Manchester United, seemed poised to transform the Red Devils into a formidable force. However, recent performances have brought forth disquieting echoes of his predecessor’s era, raising questions about the club’s desired progress under his leadership.
Déjà vu in the Defense
In a recent post-match assessment, Ten Hag lamented his side’s early stumbles in a game they were expected to dominate, remarking, “They were easy give-aways.” These sentiments evoked eerie parallels to a statement made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after United’s defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir in November 2020.
Solskjaer had expressed disbelief as 35-year-old Demba Ba raced unopposed from his own half to secure a lead for the opposition. Similarly, in a recent encounter, Ten Hag watched in dismay as Taiwo Awoniyi capitalized on amateurish defending to score after United had just taken a corner.
Thrilling Yet Concerning Start
Twenty-one months have passed since Solskjaer’s departure, leaving behind a legacy of a beloved former player with limited coaching experience. While his commitment to the club was unquestionable, his inability to secure trophies over nearly four years led to his eventual exit in November 2021.
In contrast, Ten Hag arrived with a glittering reputation, known for orchestrating intricate football and delivering trophies. His brief tenure included ending United’s six-year trophy drought with a Carabao Cup victory, an FA Cup final appearance, and securing Champions League qualification in his debut season.
However, despite these accomplishments, the start of the current season has been marked by erratic performances. Fortuitous wins over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest, coupled with a lackluster defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, have cast a shadow of doubt over Ten Hag’s ability to lead United forward.
Resilience and Comebacks: United’s DNA
While the opening minutes of recent games left United fans bewildered, opponents reveled in their plight. Forest fans, in a reminiscent nod to the Solskjaer era, gleefully chanted “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to Ten Hag.
Christian Eriksen’s strike breathed life into Old Trafford, sparking hopes of a comeback. As Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes subsequently found the net, an aura of inevitability surrounded the proceedings.
United’s history is punctuated by memorable comebacks, epitomized by the 1993 victory over Sheffield Wednesday and the 1999 Champions League final turnaround against Bayern Munich. Tenacity and an unwavering spirit defined Sir Alex Ferguson’s great teams.
The Perils of Routine Comebacks
While comebacks are exhilarating, relying on them excessively is seldom sustainable. Under Solskjaer, United displayed a knack for winning matches after conceding first, recording an astounding 10 such victories in the 2020/21 season.
However, this pattern did not translate to long-term success. Despite finishing second in the league, the subsequent season witnessed United’s lowest-ever Premier League points total, culminating in Solskjaer’s dismissal following a defeat to Watford.
A similar script unfolded in Ferguson’s last season, characterized by dramatic turnarounds but hinting at deeper issues. The subsequent campaign under David Moyes yielded a dismal seventh-place finish.
Ten Hag and the Comeback Trend
In his short time in charge, Ten Hag has already etched his name in the annals of United’s comeback history. The recent victory over Forest marked his seventh turnaround win. Following impressive victories over Manchester City, Everton, West Ham, Fulham, Aston Villa, and Barcelona.
However, Ten Hag must tread carefully. Relying on frequent comebacks can expose vulnerabilities. As Solskjaer discovered, the magic of comebacks can fade, leaving a trail of humiliating defeats.
Challenges Ahead: Striking a Balance
United’s fixture list offers an initial reprieve, with matches against relegation candidates. Yet, looming battles with Arsenal and Brighton could prove pivotal. Ten Hag’s position may hang in the balance, particularly after significant summer investments to bolster the squad.
The Dutchman was entrusted with steering United away from the allure of nostalgia that had characterized previous management. While he has displayed authority and made promising strides, he will ultimately be judged by results. The thrilling yet unsustainable football of the past must evolve into sustainable progress for the club to move forward.
In an ever-evolving Premier League landscape. Ten Hag faces the daunting task of proving that United are indeed on a trajectory toward success, not regression.
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