Postecoglou’s Spurs catching on quicker than flops not fit to wear Man Utd shirt…

Ian Watson
Bruno Fernandes reacts after missing a chance for Manchester United against Totternham.
Bruno Fernandes reacts after missing a glorious chance for Manchester United.

Erik ten Hag is almost back to square one at Manchester United as his undercooked and ill-equipped squad flounder at the start of the new season. Some of that is on the manager…

By the time Ange Postecoglou starts his second season at Tottenham, assuming he sticks around that long, he has to hope his players have caught on quicker than Erik ten Hag’s.

The Manchester United manager’s sophomore season has started similarly to his first. Not as catastrophically in terms of results. But from their performances, it seems what they did pick up from the Dutchman, they have forgotten.

A year ago, they had the excuse that it was all new to them. The very basics of Ten Hag ball – pace, press, pass – had to be taught to the misfits he inherited from Ralf Rangnick, and the players he brought in had to be allowed some time to find their feet. United got better, sure. Good enough to secure a Champions League place. But here we are, a year on, and the Red Devils are looking lost again.

They opened their Premier League campaign with what Gary Neville described as the worst 1-0 he’d ever seen. He probably wasn’t exaggerating. Ten Hag, perhaps surprisingly, opted to give the same XI another chance to blow out the summer cobwebs and through the first half, they looked sharper – physically if not mentally.

For a brief spell, perhaps spurred on by the hosts’ full-backs struggling with moonlighting as midfielders, United even showed some swagger. Bruno Fernandes teed up Marcus Rashford, albeit in an offside position, with a Rabona cross. Rashford beat Micky van de Ven with a sumptuous nutmeg. Andre Onana played one of the passes of the season to put Alejandro Garnacho in behind a home defence evidently still strangers to one another.

They didn’t make the most of that fleeting dominance. Fernandes missed a sitter. Rashford was denied by new Spurs keeper Guglielmo Vicario. Then they disappeared without a trace up their own collective arse.

They completely vanished from midfield. Wolves ran through United almost at will on Monday night and Tottenham did the same after half-time. Many of the hosts’ bursts started at the back and though United sought to win back possession, it was merely the impression of a press. A pretend press.They hunted in packs of individuals rather than as a cohesive swarm, just as they did last season.

Then, when he wasn’t suspended, Casemiro served as one the Premier League’s best defensive shields. Now, it looks like he was dragged off the beach last Monday afternoon. ‘Jowly’ was how one 365-er described the Brazilian as he trudged through the second half seemingly a few seconds behind everyone else.

To be fair to Casemiro, he needs help. He’s certainly not getting it from Mason Mount.

Two games into his United career, it would be cruel to write off the summer signing. But we can say with some certainty that Mount won’t succeed at Old Trafford as one half of a double pivot.

Ten Hag hasn’t bought him to play in that position. We assume Mount was pursued hard by the United boss to operate in the front four, either wide or as a back-up for Fernandes. Which makes sense. What is rather more baffling is that Ten Hag and United moved for Mount first over a defensive midfielder when it is so evident that their budget, for whatever reason, was limited.

Ben Davies celebrates a goal for Tottenham.

Ten Hag kept a destroyer on the bench while five others skulked off it during a second half in which Spurs seized total control. That message won’t have gone over Scott McTominay’s head, but the board seem to be too busy with sneaking Mason Greenwood back into the fold to notice that Casemiro desperately needs company and cover.

United also need another centre-forward. They always did, but they decided Rasmus Hojlund, a rookie who hasn’t yet scored double figures in a league season, will do just fine. Hojlund stands little chance, though, if he is forced to rely on Antony for service. He and Garnacho were extremely fortunate to get a reprieve after Monday night. The bench surely beckons for both.

Antony epitomises much about this United side. Which now, whatever he might think of it, is unmistakably Ten Hag’s. Half of the XI were his signings, with another brought through on his watch.

But persistent repeats of the same failures suggest too many messages are falling upon deaf ears. Some of these United players can’t or won’t learn.

Report: Tottenham 2-0 Man Utd: Sarr nets first Premier League goal as Spurs beat lacklustre Red Devils