Erik ten Hag will pay with Man Utd job as chumps repeatedly fail to get the message

Ryan Baldi
Ten Hag Ratcliffe Man Utd
Erik ten Hag is hoping to convince Sir Jim Ratcliffe he should remain in charge at Man Utd,

After conceding 20 shots in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium – where they mustered only eight of their own – Manchester United have now allowed more opposition efforts on goal per game than any team in the Premier League this season.

They have a negative goal difference. The chances they have gifted amount to the fourth-highest expected goals against total in the division. And, sitting seventh in the table, a season that began with ambitions of Champions League qualification is culminating with the very real possibility of the club’s lowest-ever Premier League finish. Right now they’re not even in a Conference League spot.

Amid social media mutiny from some of the younger members of his squad and the worsening of already damning defensive statistics, the result and performance at Bournemouth have accelerated Erik ten Hag towards an Old Trafford exit that has come to feel inevitable. And more than anything else, his demise will be a consequence of inadequate instruction. It’s unforgivable.

An allegation consistently levelled at Ten Hag – even in periods of comparative success last season – is that he lacks charisma as a leader. This is something that was reportedly picked up by the powers-that-be at Tottenham when he unsuccessfully interviewed for the Spurs job. The strait-laced, monotone Dutchman does not possess Jurgen Klopp’s red-faced pitch-side passion; nor does his skin seem to itch with an all-consuming, insatiable obsession of the game’s minutiae, a la Pep Guardiola.

And that’s fine. A healthy helping of charisma can certainly go a long way towards encouraging players to buy into a manager’s methods and help a coach instil an overarching philosophy, the lack of which is another common criticism of Ten Hag’s United. But not every manager needs to be as cool as Carlo or as mischievous as Mourinho to succeed.

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An inability to deliver an identifiable, uniform style of play is one thing. But United’s deterioration this season is such that they are failing to execute universal basic principles. Ten Hag’s players too often don’t know where to be or what to do. There have been errors of positioning and an absence of coherence so evident in recent weeks that you don’t need a UEFA Pro Licence to diagnose them.

Ten Hag’s United downfall will not be due to a paucity of personality, but rather a failure of basic communication.

The latest example came at the Vitality stadium. The instant Marcos Sensei picked out Justin Kluivert in the inside-left channel so open it was as though the Dutch winger had a restraining order against every United defender, Diogo Dalot threw out his arms in exasperation. Whether it was Dalot himself, young centre-back Willy Kambwala or Casemiro – who, ambling back, could’ve been overtaken by a sloth on the back of a tortoise riding a snail – someone was not where he was supposed to be.

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There was more baffled gesticulation as United conspired to capitulate in stoppage time at Stamford Bridge two weeks earlier. Having already conceded a post-90th-minute Cole Palmer equaliser from the penalty spot, Ten Hag’s defenders neglected to step into the same postcode as the red-hot former Manchester City player at a corner kick. Enzo Fernandes rolled the ball to Palmer on the edge of the box and three United defenders all stood and pointed as he rifled in a deflected winner.

And there was more set-piece stupefaction in the subsequent 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford. When Andrew Robertson swung a corner into the United penalty area in the 23rd minute, the 5ft 9ins Kobbie Mainoo found himself the nearest defender to the 6ft 2ins super-athlete Darwin Nunez. The Uruguayan is, to put it kindly, not the most refined forward in the Premier League, but he is capable of leaping like a spring-loaded salmon. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was his initial marker, but the ease with which Nunez was able to evade any close attention to win a flick-on that set up Luis Diaz to score once again highlighted the home side’s organisational woes.

“We are into the final stage of the season and this is not enough,” Ten Hag told Sky Sports after the Bournemouth draw. “But the truth is today, we didn’t deserve more.

“We lost the ball three times in the areas where we should not lose those balls. They [United’s players] were not always well-organised, especially on the right side where there came some gaps for the opposition to benefit from it. We should have done this better.”

If only Ten Hag could find the man responsible for organising his players.

Whatever his message is, it isn’t getting through. That’s been the case all season. And whether it’s a function of Ten Hag’s deficient delivery or a lack of receptiveness among his players, the outcome in such situations is as predictable as United getting outshot by their opponents – the manager pays with his job.

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