Why leading Man Utd manager candidate Tuchel would be far better fit than doomed Ten Hag

Ryan Baldi
Man Utd: Thomas Tuchel is eager to replace Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford.
Thomas Tuchel could replace Erik ten Hag at Manchester United.

Thomas Tuchel would not be a perfect Man Utd manager but it is difficult to imagine him allowing his team to be as tactically flawed as Erik ten Hag does.

 

It took Thomas Tuchel just 11 minutes into the second half of Bayern Munich’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night to show exactly why he is a leading contender to be the next Man Utd manager.

The former Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea boss will leave Bayern at the end of the season, irrespective of whether he delivers the club’s seventh European Cup. And multiple reports claim the 50-year-old is the top choice of Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS brain trust, should they decide to ship out Erik ten Hag as part of their Old Trafford overhaul.

What United could gain from Tuchel’s appointment was evident in the way he adjusted his team’s approach at half-time, when Bayern entered the break trailing 1-0 to a Vinicius Jr goal.

Bayern have typically lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation this season. Against Madrid, they began in a 4-2-2-2, with Leon Goretzka and Konrad Laimer as the deepest midfielders, Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala ahead of them as dual No.10s, and Harry Kane joined at the point of attack by Thomas Muller, while the full-backs provided width.

The set-up gave Bayern control of the middle of the pitch and limited the visitors to just a single shot. The only problem? Madrid needed just that one shot to score. Bayern, on the other hand, with left-footed Sane stationed left of centre and right-footed Musiala on the right, lacked bite in the final third.

This issue was identified by the time Tuchel sat his players down at the break. When Bayern came out for the second period, they had switched to their usual 4-2-3-1, with Sane restored to the right and Musiala on the opposite flank.

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“We started very well. We wanted two strikers and two wingers in the first half and we wanted to support with full-backs,” Tuchel explained after the game.

We were strong in the beginning of the match but then, when we conceded, we lost a bit of rhythm and confidence to play through the gaps and lost the speed in our passing. So in the second half, we changed and had more aggressive wingers in wider positions and tried to be more aggressive in our passing with more dribbles from out to in.

It worked. And quickly. Sane scored an equaliser just eight minutes after the restart, cutting in from his customary right-wing position to lash a left-footed drive past Andriy Lunin in the Madrid goal.

On the other side of the pitch, Musiala, Bayern’s most gifted dribbler, began to torment Real right-back Lucas Vazquez, twisting the converted winger inside out when drifting in from the left. The former England youth international won a 57th-minute penalty by doing just that, and Harry Kane converted.

But for a clumsily conceded penalty in the 83rd minute that allowed Vinicius to score his second goal of the game, Tuchel’s tinkering would have earned Bayern a crucial first-leg victory.

Still, the way the manager highlighted a deficiency in his team and quickly remedied it affected the game and gave Bayern the upper hand. It was an instance of swift tactical thought that would stand out at Old Trafford, where he is apparently admired. While Tuchel reacted to his team’s needs in a matter of minutes, months have now passed and United are still plagued by the same tactical ills.

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It’s difficult to imagine a tactical mind such as Tuchel’s allowing his team to be played through centrally as easily as United have been this term, for example. Or to watch opponents score regularly through near-identical patterns of play – work the ball to the byline, cut back to a shooter who will inevitably be unmarked somewhere between the penalty spot and the edge of the 18-yard box – without plugging that hole. Or to stand by as his side is taken to the brink of a humiliating defeat after surrendering a three-goal lead against a Championship team in an FA Cup semi-final without being able to wrest back the game’s momentum.

Tuchel is far from a perfect candidate for the United job should the Red Devils decide a change in the dugout is needed this summer. He can be spiky and cantankerous, with almost every job he’s held ending in acrimony with the higher-ups. His intense tactical style is demanding of his players and has tended to yield diminishing results the longer he remains in post, as his charges become fatigued by his methods. And he now carries the unwanted distinction of being the Bayern manager who let slip the club’s decade-long death grip on the Bundesliga.

But there is no doubting his tactical nous. He not only has the depth of understanding of the game to identify the kind of on-field problems that have plagued United all season but also the communicative and coaching abilities to quickly find and implement solutions.

If, as looks increasingly likely, Ten Hag’s tenure is doomed, the perplexed sideline expressions as another opponent tears through the heart of Man Utd or scores from yet another simple cut-back will also be condemned to history if Tuchel takes over.