The Erik ten Hag revolution has begun and the signings have started arriving! Everybody knew that this Manchester United squad needed a lot of work. However, the transfer window has been the pain point for United hierarchy in the past. Under Erik ten Hag, United have begun the transfer window well. Under-the-radar fullback Tyrell Malacia has signed, while Christian Eriksen’s transfer has been confirmed. Frenkie de Jong saga remains tiring while Lisandro Martinez has arrived to strengthen a leaky defence.
With all the euphoria of new signings, the buck now stops with the manager. It is believed that Erik ten Hag is having a huge input on who comes and departs the club. Therefore, the thoughts then turn to how the Red Devils will look and play under him. The pre-season has given a better idea about how his team shapes. Moreover, the club can still make more signings as the transfer window goes and departures are confirmed. A striker could become a priority if Ronaldo leaves. Although Alejandro Garnacho has staked a claim for a chance in the first team.
🗣 Erik ten Hag: "Here we are! Bringing the first signing."
— Utd District (@UtdDistrict) July 5, 2022
Also read: Why United should sign Sasa Kalajdzic, the bargain striker signing of the summer
With all that in mind, FootTheBall looks at how United could lineup next season with ten Hag.
Erik ten Hag tactics
First things first, the quality of the Eredivisie has to kept in mind. Erik ten Hag will face far stiffer opposition in the Premier League. Apart from the increase in quality of teams, even the bottom dwellers can spring a surprise often.
Moreover, another thing to keep in mind is how best the players will fit into his style. Keeping all that in mind, there is still much to look forward to from next season.
🤯 Ajax are the only team from UEFA's top-10 coefficient-ranked leagues with a greater goal difference (+67) than points haul (66) this season
😏 Heading to the Eredivisie title in style pic.twitter.com/wi2xKwCuCR
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 23, 2022
Therefore, Erik ten Hag and his tactics can be broken down into some key components. He mainly uses the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with a double pivot in midfield. The buildup starts right from the goalkeeper who is extremely adept with his feet. The two centre-backs are adept at receiving the ball and making passes around them. Therefore, signing the left-footed Lisandro Martinez for the left centre-back spot was so crucial. Martinez as the left centre-back opens up the whole of left wing for passing options.
The fullbacks, either on one or both, usually drop back in order to provide extra cover. Like their centre-backs, Daley Blind and Noussair Mazraoui are comfortable with playing long balls forward. Going a little further up, Erik ten Hag often links his tactics for the midfield and attack.
If you ever want to know how much impact Daley Blind has over this Ajax team, here is a pitch map of all his passes (red) and carries (grey) this season.
The most absurd map I've seen that I had to check that it was only for one player. pic.twitter.com/k7ayhxBTDC
— UtdArena (@UtdArena) February 17, 2022
The double-pivot can become a single player during the attacking phase. At Ajax, only Edson Alvarez sat deep. Therefore, this allowed Ryan Gravenberch and Steve Berghuis to attack in a consistent manner. Sebastien Haller emulated the Harry Kane style of play by dropping into midfield to receive the ball.
However, unlike Spurs, Erik ten Hag had several options ahead who act as runners in behind. Running through the lines to get in the box at opportune moments is an instinctive quality that Donny van de Beek has mastered. Therefore, watch out for him having a breakthrough season.
The wingers, Dusan Tadic and Antony, stay extremely wide and are comfortable in a variety of situations.
🇧🇷 Two goals for Antony in Ajax's KNVB Cup victory over Vitesse takes the winger in to double figures for the season.
— FotMob (@FotMob) February 10, 2022
Both can receive the ball to feet and look to immediately run at the opposition or cross. Antony, in particular, loves in-swinging crosses that reach the centre of the penalty box. Therefore, it is of no doubt why United keep getting linked to Antony. Needless to say that the relationship between the fullbacks and wingers is integral to the whole plan. Erik ten Hag has already hailed the relationship between Diogo Dalot and Jadon Sancho on the right side of United’s attack.
By stretching the opposition’s press wide, Ajax can overload on either side often. A lot of it is also down to the supreme quality of their own players and the subpar nature of their opponents.
Sébastien Haller has scored 30+ goals across all competitions in a season for the first time in his career:
◎ 31 games
◉ 31 goals
Loving life at Ajax. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/zkwqUxxElo
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 6, 2022
However, that is not to say that Ajax were lacking in substance. Erik ten Hag has implemented his tactics in such a manner that every player has his role very clearly defined.
He does have an overreliance on defenders who can have a nervy moment in the big matches. Nevertheless, there are many things that Ajax did way better than United last season.
The 11 Red Devils
Coming to what and how Erik ten Hag will do with his tactics at Manchester United. The first and most important point has to be who plays under him. Ten Hag does not change his personnel much. All top clubs tend to follow that policy. Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and others know their first-choice players.
Before his arrival, United had some gaping holes in certain key positions. A couple of midfield players comfortable with the ball were at the top of the list with Pogba and Matic’s departure. A proven right winger and right back were also needed due to Aaron wan-Bissaka being limited offensively. However, the rise of Diogo Dalot and Jadon Sancho could save United some money here.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) July 16, 2022
A centre-back to challenge inconsistent Maguire and Lindelof, and an injury-prone Varane was also needed. Lisandro Martinez can play as a defensive midfielder or a centre back so that signing is an astute one.
Also Read: 10 Lisandro Martinez facts you don’t know
If ten Hag gets his desired signings, three of which are already completed, then United could look like a very different side on August 7, the date of their first PL fixture.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
This one pretty much picks itself. United will never be in the goalkeeping market as long as De Gea is there. He was one of the leaders in saves made in 2021-22 but the rest of his game needs improving. De Gea gets nervy during distribution and can be pressurized during tough situations.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) March 15, 2022
With Dean Henderson having departed on loan, de Gea is the undisputed No 1. He has already shown some tendencies in the pre-season to play as a sweeper keeper. ten Hag will hope this becomes a permanent feature of the Spaniard’s game.
Right back: Diogo Dalot
United have two options at right-back so they may not buy another one just now. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the better defender while Dalot is better at going forward. It seems like Erik ten Hag will favour the Portuguese for his tactics. He can supply crosses more often and can linkup play with the wide players. Dalot is also good at making overlapping runs. If he can get his crossing radar right, there can be a big future under Erik ten Hag.
Left Centre-back: Lisandro Martinez
Clubs generally don’t spend €55m (£46.8m) plus €10m in potential add-ons on a player if they don’t expect him to be a starter from day one. The feisty Argentinian adds a different dimension to this United team with his range of passing and aggresive way of defending. Moreover, his familiarity with Erik ten Hag’s system makes him a shoo-in for a starting place against Brighton on August 7. With Harry Maguire installed as captain, last year’s signing Raphael Varane might have to start the season on the bench and impress during the chances that come his way.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
Any doubts about the status of Harry Maguire in Erik ten Hag’s team were laid to rest by the manager immediately. ten Hag has said that Maguire will remain his captain, which makes it likely that he will be a part of the first-choice pairing to start the season. However, with the signing of Lisandro Martinez, his place is under the most threat. CB is a position where United have the most options so expect the two CB entries to change the most during the season owing to injuries or poor form. Bailly has started pre-season on a bright note while Lindelof always manages to force his way into the manager’s plan with composed play.
Left-back: Tyrell Malacia
Luke Shaw has always been a player that improves his play when there’s competition. However, it looks like his competition this time has taken Shaw’s place altogether. Initially expected to be a rotational option with Shaw, Malacia has impressed greatly this pre-season. His calm and composed performances have made him an instant fan favourite. Furthermore, it is known that ten Hag has wanted him for a while, even at Ajax. ten Hag’s fullbacks work as inverted midfielders in the attacking phase and that style of play suits Malacia more than Shaw, who is more of an old-school rampaging fullback. Telles, meanwhile, could probably be looking for a new club by the end of the window.
Defensive midfielder: Frenkie de Jong
Of course, this saga could have a sour end for United. However, this is the place where the team has the most glaring hole. While it’s unlikely that de Jong takes the field for United on August 7, it is undeniable that ten Hag considers him to be an integral part of his ideal team. Fred and McTominay look short of the required ball-playing quality to perform this very specific role in a ten Hag team. The defensive midfielder is expected to receive the ball from the defenders to carry it forward. Frenkie de Jong performed this role expertly during Ajax’s memorable 2018-19 season.
🚨 Man Utd in total agreement with Barcelona on €75m + €10m add-ons fee for Frenkie de Jong. Player side still unresolved in relation to personal terms with #MUFC & deferred wages with #FCBarcelona. W/ @lauriewhitwell @TheAthleticUK after @FabrizioRomano https://t.co/xThIizXKYE
— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) July 14, 2022
Barcelona and Man Utd have been locked in a tense battle for his services with conflicting noises from both camps making this deal a difficult one to predict. A backup option to Frenkie could be someone like Matheus Nunes. Academy prospects like Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal have impressed in pre-season but it would be too soon for them. Therefore, the success of this transfer window, for better or worse, hinges on the completion of Frenkie de Jong’s transfer.
Defensive midfielder: Fred
The cult of “Fredinho” comes and goes. The Brazilian put on some incredibly smooth displays last year and played a good pre-season. However, his inconsistency is extremely frustrating for fans. Fred has the quality to shine and become a key asset offensively. Moreover, he has shown that he has the scoring touch along with an eye for passing. Erik ten Hag can coach the best out of him with more rigorous training and a clearly defined role. Scott McTominay would be a good backup option for the Brazilian in games when ten Hag opts for more physicality.
Attacking midfielder: Bruno Fernandes
With the signing of Christian Eriksen, the position behind the striker becomes a logjam. However, Bruno Fernandes deserves to start the season with this position as his own. His high-risk, high-reward game might not be suited to a ten Hag team at first glance but every methodical team needs a garnish of some unexpected moments of brilliance as well. Eriksen is a good backup option for a variety of positions as he can play here as well as on either wing. However, Donny van de Beek again might be restricted to appearances off the bench to start the season.
Right-wing: Jadon Sancho
The return to form of Sancho has been one of the biggest stories this pre-season. He slowly settled into the English game at end of the last season and looks extremely confident at the moment. Sancho is blessed with natural pace and quick feet with great ball control. He can run at defenders and score cracking goals.
Jadon Sancho has been involved in 5 goals in his last 6 Premier League games (2 goals, 3 assists) 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Prb1WdVLfg
— United Zone (@ManUnitedZone_) March 12, 2022
Sancho’s quality is a big upgrade on Tadic at Ajax and Erik ten Hag can get the best out of him. Hence, Sancho will be a key offensive threat and knows he can transform his game further. With age on his side, he will be very important in the past and future.
Centre forward: Anthony Martial
Until the picture around a certain Portuguese forward is clear, United have to hedge their bets of Anthony Martial rediscovering his form under the new manager.
Martial came back from a terrible loan spell at Sevilla and the chances of him finding a place here looked slim. However, fate has given him a second chance. With Cristiano Ronaldo agitating for a move away, Martial started pre-season as the undisputed choice for the No.9 spot. He put in great performances and impressed ten Hag. Even if Ronaldo ultimately decides to stay, the chances of him starting every game in ten Hag’s fluid attacking system look slim. Furthermore, missing such an important pre-season will hurt Ronaldo’s prospects of first-team involvement.
Left wing: Marcus Rashford
No player in the United squad has needed a fresh start more than Marcus Rashford. After an underwhelming last season, Rashford took rest, rehabilitated his body, and has came back this pre-season like a man on a mission. With Martial now confirmed as the striker and Sancho finding a home on the right, the left-wing place is Rashford’s to lose.
Eriksen could rotate with Rashford if the opposition sits back and denies space, but Rashford, if fit and firing, remains the undisputed No1 choice for the left-wing spot.