Friday, June 2, 2023

Ten Hag, Manchester United’s problems pile up

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LONDON — After a 2-1 loss to Brighton in their opening match, Manchester United lost 4-0 away to Brentford, conceding all four in the first half of the game. Brentford played well, and United’s defensive errors, coupled with a lack of attacking conviction, gave the Bees their first win over the Red Devils in the Premier League.

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Things go from bad to worse for Erik ten Hag

If the new Manchester United manager thought it was bad against Brighton last weekend, this was even worse. Much worse. Brentford were 4-0 up with barely half an hour on the clock and then spent the rest of the game toying with Ten Hag’s team. Embarrassment is an understatement.

Ten Hag, appointed in the summer from Ajax, is the first United manager to lose his first two competitive games since John Chapman in 1921 while United have now lost their last seven away matches — their worst run since 1936. It’s also four league defeats in a row — stretching back to last season — for the first time since 1979. Ten Hag — who handed Cristiano Ronaldo his first start of the season — responded to the dismal first-half performance by replacing Luke Shaw, Lisandro Martinez and Fred at half-time, but there were very few United players who deserved to stay on after the first 45 minutes.

He desperately needs new players before the transfer deadline but, maybe more importantly, he needs to see some fight from the ones he inherited. After two games, two defeats, and a goal difference of minus five, United are bottom of the Premier League table and it won’t get any easier for Ten Hag. His next game is against Liverpool at Old Trafford on Aug. 22.

David De Gea under pressure

David De Gea has been Man United’s No.1 goalkeeper for more than a decade but there is a strong argument that he should be dropped for Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford. He was caught on his line when Aston Villa scored a last-minute equaliser in a friendly in Perth and his season has only gone downhill from there. Ten Hag wants his team to play out from the goalkeeper and De Gea’s passing was shaky in the defeat to Brighton.

Against Brentford, though, it was even more damaging. He had already let Josh Dasilva’s tame shot squirm under his body to gift Brentford the opening goal when he tried to pass out to Christian Eriksen. The pass wasn’t there, Eriksen was robbed by Mathias Jensen, who put Brentford 2-0 up inside the first 20 minutes.

With Dean Henderson sent on loan to Nottingham Forest, 36-year-old Tom Heaton — who made just one appearance last season — is the current No. 2 and would likely come in against Liverpool if Ten Hag decides to make a change. United are looking to add another goalkeeper before the transfer deadline and those efforts will intensify after De Gea’s latest disaster.

Brentford get revenge

Thomas Frank was furious after Man United’s visit to Brentford in January when Ralf Rangnick’s team somehow managed to withstand a first-half battering to eventually win 3-1. Brentford were so good that night that they should have been out of sight by half-time but ultimately paid the price for a series of missed chances. They didn’t make the same mistake again.

Brentford targeted Martinez with long passes to Ivan Toney, put pressure on the ball all over the pitch and played on United’s inability to play out from the back to race into a 4-0 lead inside 35 minutes. They only needed 30% possession to do it and converted four of their seven shots on target in a clinical display that brutally exposed the fragility of a United team that seems bereft of technical ability and self belief.

Brentford didn’t deserve to lose to United here last season but they more than made up for it this time with a dominant performance to ensure a first win in the new season. The headlines will be about United but Frank and his team deserve credit for a well-executed game plan which humiliated Ten Hag and his players.

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