Man Utd ranking revisited: How Ten Hag views his squad, as Casemiro somehow climbs

Ian Watson
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with Bruno Fernandes, Andre Onana and Casemiro.
Bruno Fernandes, Andre Onana and Casemiro are all crucial to Ten Hag.

Once more we’ve tried to put ourselves into Erik Ten Hag’s bald head to rank the Manchester United squad by how important they are in the manager’s mind after the first two months of his second season at Old Trafford.

The numbers are skewed slightly by the number of summer departures and new arrivals. Previous rankings are shown in brackets, from pre-season, post-World Cup in February; pre-World Cup in October; pre-season last July; and upon Ten Hag’s appointment in April 2022…


28) Donny van de Beek (Previous rankings: June 22; Feb 25; Oct 21, July 18, April n/a)
Poor Donny. The forgotten man of Old Trafford. Had to get away in the summer but turned his nose up at several offers and will lose another half a season at least.


27) Jadon Sancho (15, 15, 8, 7, 3)
Dead to Ten Hag unless he apologises. The chances of which seem to lie somewhere between none and f*** all. Sancho appears to be hoping to stick it out until Ten Hag is shown the door. The really sad thing is, he might pull it off.


26) Tom Heaton (21, 24, 23, 16, 17)
Volleys and brews. Each as important as the other.


25) Tyrell Malacia (17, 18, 10, 9, n/a)
Malacia would have been crucial in Luke Shaw’s absence were he not sidelined himself. When he returns from injury, Ten Hag’s first signing is likely to be third-choice left-back.


24) Facundo Pellistri (new entry)
Pellistri was beginning to look like a pointless signing but with Ten Hag’s other right-wingers unable to keep themselves out of bother, the Uruguay international was given his chance to stake his claim. Did he take it? Not really. Pellistri probably needs a loan move in January.


23) Altay Bayindir (new entry)
Becomes ever more important with each cock-up from Andre Onana as the prospect of the No.1 being dropped grows. Not that punishing Onana would serve him or United much good right now.


22) Harry Maguire (19, 20, 16, 5, 8)
Ten Hag was hardly subtle in the summer, removing Maguire’s captain’s armband and as good as shoving him through the exit door. The defender is nothing but stubborn, though, which might work to his advantage. Ten Hag has had to use Maguire more than he might have liked but while the centre-back’s form has been competent, the feeling remains that the manager would prefer to cash in on the ex-skipper.


21) Jonny Evans (new entry)
The veteran defender has been more important than he hoped and Ten Hag feared. Signed initially to bolster the squad on tour, then on a one-year contract as a last resort, Evans’ performances have merited grander status. “You have seen how massively important he can be,” said Ten Hag after the 35-year-old’s starring performance at Burnley.


20) Scott McTominay (16, 17, 12, 13, 6)
The midfielder was worth more in the manager’s mind as an asset for sale in the summer but an added-time brace to save Ten Hag’s skin when defeat loomed against Brentford might just have enhanced McTominay’s prospects.


19) Anthony Martial (18, 19, 13, 4, n/a)
Ten Hag would likely be quite willing to get shot of Martial but the fact he has only one other recognised centre-forward pushes the Frenchman higher than his performances merit.


18) Victor Lindelof (13, 21, 18, 17, 13)
At one point, he was fifth-choice centre-back, but only five players have played more minutes this season than Lindelof, who seems to be the only defender capable of staying fit. United look likely to extend the Swede’s contract but more to protect what value he might have than as a consequence of his improved status.


17) Hannibal Mejbri (new entry)
In a team of reluctant pressers, Hannibal has emerged as one of the few positives of the early part of the season. The young midfielder broke running records in his start against Burnley and Ten Hag is known to appreciate his graft: “I think he gives a very good message to the rest of the squad, that this is the demand and this has to be the standard.”


16) Sergio Reguilon (new entry)
The Spaniard was signed as emergency left-back cover, with the break clause in his loan deal suggesting Ten Hag viewed him as a short-term fix. But a couple of impressive early performances may encourage the manager to keep him around longer term. Set to return from injury after the international break, Reguilon has the opportunity to earn an extended stay at least until the end of the season.


15) Alejandro Garnacho (9, 14, n/a)
The youngster is receiving some tough love from Ten Hag having been told that his performances when picked to start were ‘not good enough’. And the manager is right. Garnacho is still more important as an impact player off the bench, which he needs to rectify, especially while United’s other forwards flounder.


14) Aaron Wan-Bissaka (11, 13, 22, 23, 16)
One of the success stories of Ten Hag’s reign since Wan-Bissaka’s United career looked dead and buried at the end of last year. But the defender has rebuilt his reputation to become the manager’s first-choice right-back. Or, he would be if he wasn’t injured.


13) Christian Eriksen (8, 16, 3, 3, n/a)
Eriksen’s status has fluctuated more than most since he joined United as one of Ten Hag’s first signings. The Dane dropped to 16 in February only because of injury but now, would he get in Ten Hag’s first XI following the arrivals of Mount and Amrabat? The fact he has started more games on the bench than the pitch  suggests not.


12) Diogo Dalot (10, 11, 11, 10, 11)
Dalot has had plenty of injury problems of his own in recent seasons but he’s been one of Ten Hag’s more reliable presences, which is handy since he’s had to shuffle across the back four to do a passable job at left-back.


11) Mason Mount (new entry)
Mount was obviously crucial to Ten Hag during the summer since he spent a huge portion of his budget on the England star, despite more pressing needs elsewhere. Now the priority is to find how to make the best use of Mount since he’s struggled on the right, as a no.10 and in a deeper midfield position. Did United really need him, especially at that price?

Read more: Liverpool midfielder among five Premier League summer transfers that already look pointless


10) Luke Shaw (6, 6, 15, 14, 10)
The importance of Ten Hag’s first-choice left-back and first reserve centre-back was highlighted by the fact United felt the need to go into the transfer market to cover his current absence. Shaw was one of the stand-out performers in a positive first season for the manager, earning a new deal and the label of ‘the best left full-back in the UK’ from Ten Hag. Sorely missed.


9) Antony (7, 10, n/a)
Antony is Ten Hag’s man – the manager was insistent upon bringing the Brazilian with him from Ajax and b*gger the cost. The right winger has failed to justify that faith so far and his off-field issues have done him and the club no favours whatsoever. Now back with the squad and with no one else nailing down the right flank spot in his absence, Antony will likely regain his status as a fixture in the XI.


8) Raphael Varane (5, 5, 6, 12, 4)
Varane’s fragility continues to be a concern for Ten Hag, especially while those who might cover have had injury concerns of their own. Still a guaranteed starter when he’s available but the fear too often now is that he won’t be.


7) Sofyan Amrabat (new entry)
More than Mount, the Moroccan was the type of midfielder needed this summer – not that he’s had much chance to prove it. Most of his few appearances so far have come as an emergency left-back. With Casemiro struggling, Amrabat’s mobility could be crucial in stoking up the Brazilian and United’s engine room.


6) Lisandro Martinez (2, 1, 1, 1, n/a)
Martinez’s diminishing status is primarily down to his inability to stay fit. When he was available, the Butcher was a shadow of the centre-back who took the Old Trafford stage by storm a year ago, but Ten Hag put that down to his injury woes: “He was not 100 per cent fit. I think it was a big difference, the Licha Martinez in the last games and the Licha Martinez we have seen in the last season.” Out now until the end of next month at the earliest.


5) Marcus Rashford (4, 4, 9, 8, 9)
In this form, Rashford isn’t much use to Ten Hag or anyone else. The England star looks a shadow of the 30-goal striker who tore United’s opponents apart last season, illustrated by the fact that Rashford has been removed by Ten Hag in each of the last three games, each time with United in dire need of a goal. The child-feeder is fortunate that Garnacho hasn’t yet gasped his chance to start regularly, but the teenager will surely get more unless Rashford rediscovers his mojo.


4) Andre Onana (new entry)
Signed as undisputed No.1 goalkeeper and first line of Ten Hag’s attack, Onana is absolutely pivotal to Ten Hag’s long-term prospects. Which means the manager needs to find a way to get the £42million signing through whatever funk he is currently experiencing since his uneasiness seems to be spreading through the rest of his defence.

Read more: How do you solve a problem like Onana? You don’t drop him…


3) Rasmus Hojlund (new entry)
As United’s leading centre-forward and only one fit for purpose, Hojlund is catapulted into the top three. The young striker has been one of the few positives for Ten Hag this season when he was finally ready for duty. With no competent cover, the manager needs to keep Hojlund fit and firing.


2) Casemiro (3, 3, n/a)
Casemiro’s importance to Ten Hag has been highlighted perhaps more this season while he’s been sh*te as much as last term when he was the game-changing midfielder United craved. The struggles of player and club are not a coincidence – opponents have literally run through the Red Devils, with Casemiro appearing woefully off the pace. Ten Hag needs the Brazilian to find his legs and fast.


1) Bruno Fernandes (1, 2, 2, 2, 1)
If Bruno ever breaks, United will know they are really doing something wrong at Carrington. Endless endurance and creativity – the fact he was named club captain since the last ranking says all we need to know, and what others must be reminded of, about how important Fernandes is to United and Ten Hag. God forbid he ever gets sick of this sh*t and leaves for a serious football club.