Manchester United season review: A positive start to the Erik Ten Hag era

Manchester United season review: A positive start to the Erik Ten Hag era
The Man Utd players with the trophy at the end of the Carabao Cup Final between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Wembley Stadium, London Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 26/02/2023 - Photo by Icon sport

When Erik Ten Hag was appointed as the Manchester United manager last summer, the Dutchman had a mammoth job on his hands. United had just slumped to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League and had posted their lowest points tally in Premier League history (58).

Ten Hag left Ajax where he had enjoyed plenty of success but embarked on an ambition to test himself at the highest level with a sleeping giant that had gone six years without a trophy and nine years without a league title.

Ahead of the first game of the Premier League season at home to Brighton, frustration was in the air as the club had only managed to sign two players – Christian Eriksen on a free transfer and Lisandro Martinez from Ajax. United slumped to a 2-1 defeat and they followed that up with a dismal 4-0 loss away at Brentford that jolted the club into life on and off the pitch.

Casemiro was brought in from Real Madrid with the Brazilian reportedly promising to “fix” United after watching the disaster unfold at Brentford and £80m was spent on Antony from Ajax – a man Ten Hag had pursued all summer.

A 2-1 victory over bitter rivals Liverpool got United’s season underway but few would have imagined at that point that nine months later they would have finished third in the Premier League, above Liverpool by eight points, have ended their trophy drought, and have another cup final to come.

It’s been a great first season at Old Trafford for Ten Hag and one that would become the club’s best since Sir Alex Ferguson retired should they defeat Manchester City next week at Wembley in the FA Cup final. However, there have also been some bumps in the road along the way. Let’s take a look at the highs and lows of Manchester United’s 2022/23 campaign.

The highs

Their home record

One thing that Erik Ten Hag has managed to do in his first season at the club is make Old Trafford a fortress once again. In 19 home league games, United have won 15, drawn three and lost one. It means they have picked up 48 points at home out of a possible 57, a record bettered only by Manchester City who have collected 52 points at the Etihad Stadium this season.

Their home record is also a big reason why they have reached two cup finals this season. The Red Devils have been very fortunate in the sense that every domestic draw they’ve had this season has given them a home tie, something they have taken full advantage of. If Ten Hag can improve their form away from home next season, then he will have his team competing with Manchester City for the league title.

Winning the Carabao Cup

Prior to this season, the last time United won a trophy was in 2017 when Jose Mourinho led the club to a Carabao Cup and Europa League double. In the six years since that night in Stockholm, they have lost a couple of finals and even more semi-finals as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failed to get his team over the line when it mattered.

However, in late February this year, Erik Ten Hag ended the club’s trophy drought at the first possible opportunity. His team came up against Newcastle United and swatted them away in a professional performance at Wembley. Two first half goals from Casemiro and Marcus Rashford sealed the win for The Reds and gave United fans across the world reason to celebrate again.

Victory over Barcelona

It may have only been a round of 32 Europa League tie, but the way that Manchester United dealt with Barcelona in both legs was very impressive. It isn’t a stretch to say that United could have left the Nou Camp with a 4-1 lead given how well they played in Catalonia but a 2-2 draw is what they had to settle for.

Ironically, their performance at Old Trafford wasn’t quite as good but they still managed to get the job done against a Barcelona team that have won La Liga at a canter this season. With both teams on the up once again, expect more clashes between the two sides in the coming years.

The lows

Cristiano Ronaldo

When Cristiano Ronaldo was re-signed by Manchester at the start of last season, the club legend was meant to be returning to win the title once again. Unfortunately for all involved, things didn’t go to plan, and his signing arguably cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job.

This season, Erik Ten Hag seemed to decide fairly quickly that a 37-year-old Ronaldo wasn’t going to be the man to lead his rebuild. He’d lost his blistering pace, wasn’t game for pressing and offered very little – it was the right decision but one that didn’t go down well with United’s number seven.

After a series of petulant outbursts from Ronaldo, he sensationally conducted an interview with Piers Morgan to tell the world he had no respect for the Dutchman. United swiftly terminated his contract and Ronald signed for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia. An undignified end to an incredible career in European football.

A nightmare trip to Anfield

The lowest moment of the season for Ten Hag and United came at Anfield at the beginning of March. Going into the match, there was talk of a late United assault on the Premier League title following a superb run of form after Christmas. Liverpool swiftly put those thoughts to bed, however, as they ran out 7-0 winners in a game that is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.

Disappointment in Seville

While Anfield was the lowest moment in terms of embarrassment, the defeat in Seville in April was the lowest moment in terms of sheer disappointment. After throwing away a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford in the dying minutes, United travelled to Seville knowing that they would have to win to progress to the Europa League semi finals.

Unfortunately, the team never got going and a series of calamitous errors at the back cost them the game and their pursuit of a famous treble.

What next for Manchester United and Erik Ten Hag?

First and foremost, United have the small task of stopping Manchester City from winning the treble next weekend. The match is the first-ever Manchester derby FA Cup final and a win would make this group of players heroes in the eyes of United supporters due to what they would be stopping more so than what they would be winning.

After that, more reinforcements are needed in the summer if the club are to get back to competing with Manchester City for league titles. A prolific striker should be the number one priority, with links to Harry Kane not going away, while a new goalkeeper and central midfielder could also be on the agenda.

The biggest stumbling block as things stand is the uncertainty around the ownership of the club. The Glazer family, who have plagued the club for nearly 20 years, are seemingly digging their heels in to try and suck more money out of the prospective bidders. This means as we enter June, Ten Hag is none the wiser as to how much he can spend before the start of next season.

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