Erik ten Hag now faces an unexpected challenge at Manchester United
Man United are unexpectedly in the running for the Premier League title after great form.
What a difference 12 months can make.
Exactly one year ago, Manchester United was in disarray. They had just lost 1-0 to Wolves at home and squandered a two-goal lead to draw at Aston Villa. Ralf Rangnick was called in to stabilize the ship, but he did nothing but rock harder on and off the field. Unfortunately, his clinical analysis of the club’s problems was marred by his team’s continued poor displays.
There would be eight more defeats before the season finally reached its sad conclusion: elimination from the Champions League to Atlético Madrid, a penalty defeat to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, a 4-1 defeat in the derby, a defeat to Everton (!), 4-0 defeats of Liverpool and Brighton, a 3-1 thrashing of Arsenal before ending in style with a turgid defeat at Crystal Palace. Sealing United’s worst ever Premier League campaign.
It was a dismal, exhausting and, at times, boringly pointless campaign. The football was bad, the atmosphere was toxic and the fans’ anger turned to apathy.
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Just compare that to Saturday afternoon, when Old Trafford roared like an ancient dragon finally awakened from its slumber. Flame rekindled.
Belief is back. Like color being breathed back into a bleak black and white world. It’s palpable. The fact that Erik ten Hag has done so much in such a short time shows what a good manager he is. What a difference indeed.
Belief inevitably leads to rising hopes and dreams and who can blame anyone for thinking that United can now win the Premier League for the first time in a decade? They are the fittest team in the division, having just beaten the champions and their local rivals, they could climb two points above them on Wednesday and face the leaders at the weekend. If United manage to beat Arsenal, the whispers will explode into full-blown enthusiasm. It’s not just the supporters either.
“Anything is possible,” said Raphael Varane after the derby victory. “Let’s think game by game. It’s a long way to go and it’s very difficult. The intensity of each game is incredible, the physical effort. It’s like the same intensity of a big Champions League game every game.
“The pace is very high. The players are very well prepared physically. We know how difficult it is. But we are solid; we are strong. We just need to use quality players on the ball.”
If United’s great run continues, expectations will naturally rise with it and it will present Ten Hag with a challenge he probably didn’t expect to face. At least this early in his term.
The Dutchman will have to ensure those expectations remain even and balanced. Not only in the squad, but also among the fans. It’s natural for fans to get giddy after being given little to be excited about for so long, but those positive feelings can easily turn into major resentment if high expectations aren’t met later on.
We’ve seen it time and time again. A team will perform well above its station for a period of time, and when the results start to falter a little as they return to the average, the average is no longer good enough. Victims of success. Even Claudio Ranieri wasn’t safe from the boot after guiding Leicester City to a remarkable title triumph before slipping back into middling form.
That’s not to say that Ten Hag is in the slightest danger of being sacked, but it must be remembered what constituted United’s success at the start of the season. A return to the top four, good football and a change of attitude was the mission, the end of the trophy drought in one of the cups would be a nice bonus. Absolutely no one dreamed of talking about the title at any point in the campaign.
United will be halfway through the season on Wednesday and to be in the discussion at this stage – although Ten Hag do not rightly claim it – is an achievement. If they can go on and win then it will be remarkable. But not winning would not be a failure.
Os torcedores, sem dúvida, apoiarão seu técnico como fizeram na última década, muiiiiiiiiiiiiiiito além dos torcedores de muitos outros clubes, independentemente do que aconteça, mas a decepção é natural. Ten Hag deu-lhes permissão para sonhar e pode ser um golpe quando os sonhos não se tornam realidade.
Se a sequência de vitórias terminar, se os resultados voltarem a ser inconsistentes, se o United alcançar apenas os quatro primeiros e não ganhar nenhum título depois de sonhar com muito mais, será o trabalho de Ten Hag garantir que todos mantenham a fé. Porque aconteça o que acontecer, o United está finalmente se movendo na direção certa novamente.