For those of us who have seen a succession of Manchester United managers unravel over the last decade, the tell-tale signs are not hard to spot.
David Moyes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had gone significantly greyer on top by the time they left the job. Ralf Rangnick gave the players a day off and was then surprised to turn up for work at an empty training ground.
Who can forget Jose Mourinho’s ‘respect, respect, respect’ rant early in his final season at Old Trafford?
And Louis van Gaal flounced off in the middle of a press conference at Christmas after sarcastically telling reporters to enjoy the wine and mince pies United had laid on for us. The Dutchman offered to quit shortly afterwards.
That was in December 2015 before Van Gaal’s side went to Stoke and lost for the fourth game in a row.
Man United have suffered three straight defeats following their 4-3 loss to Bayern Munich
Manager Erik ten Hag has largely remained cool despite the difficult start to the season
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was among the former United bosses to have been worn down by the job
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No United manager has equalled that miserable run of defeats in the eight years since, but Erik ten Hag can do it at Burnley on Saturday on what promises to be a very uncomfortable night for the Dutchman and his beleaguered players.
The Champions League loss to Bayern Munich in midweek followed defeats to Brighton and Arsenal. Spurs’s win over United at the Tottenham Stadium last month makes it four defeats in the first six games.
Let’s be clear: Ten Hag has not entered basket-case territory yet. Not even close. The Dutchman is displaying the same coolness he did when navigating United through a torrid start to last season before he secured a third-place finish and won the Carabao Cup.
But the first small cracks have started to appear in the calm exterior. Ten Hag’s assessment of the defeats to Arsenal and Spurs were detached from the mainstream view. A man who spoke yesterday about not looking for excuses bemoaned United’s luck at not being awarded penalties in both games.
After Brighton deservedly won at Old Trafford last weekend, Ten Hag said the chorus of boos that met his decision to substitute Rasmus Hojlund was a ‘positive’ for his new £72million signing, conveniently ignoring the fact it was negative for everyone else of a United persuasion.
And asked on Friday if he knows why the players are not putting in the effort to defend as a team after shipping 14 goals in five games, he laughed and said: ‘No.’
To be fair to Ten Hag, he neither wants to offer up excuses for United’s poor start or throw his players under the bus. But he is all about control and discipline, and things seem to be getting away from him at the moment.
He added: ‘When you are in a period like we are in, as a manager you are always asking yourself these questions. My job is to get them to do the job. I always tell my players we attack with 11 and defend with 11. When one or two are not doing their job, it’s like a pack of cards.
‘It’s always a concern when we don’t run. Then, is it about they didn’t make the right decisions or is it about willingness?’
Cracks have begun to show Ten Hag in calm exterior as Man United’s problems mount up
Ten Hag claimed the booing of Rasmus Hojlund’s substitution against Brighton was ‘positive’
Injuries have stacked up for United, with Raphael Varane a big miss in the heart of the defence
Asked if he is surprised at the scale of the challenge facing him, Ten Hag replied: ‘No. It’s my second year and I know it’s not always going up. You will have your gaps and you get stronger from it as long as you stay together. That’s what we’re doing. The dressing-room, all the staff, coaches, medical, everyone is united and at United you fight.’
Although the rallying cry within Old Trafford over the last few days has been about unity, Ten Hag was asked about dressing-room leaks behind several stories that have appeared this week. The players have their own suspicions.
Then there are the off-the-field distractions that have clouded the early stages of the season.
On Friday, the manager again had to field questions about the takeover saga at United, Jadon Sancho’s ongoing exclusion from first-team training and Mail Sport’s story about the growing influence of Ten Hag’s representatives, Sports Entertainment Group, in the club’s transfer business.
Then there is Antony, unavailable and still in Brazil fighting accusations of violence against former partners — which he denies — and the lingering smell of the Mason Greenwood saga.
And then, more than anything, there is the injury situation. United were without 10 players in Munich but Mason Mount, Raphael Varane, Sofyan Amrabat and Harry Maguire are close to a return. Varane, in particular, has been sorely missed.
The last thing Ten Hag needed was his keeper Andre Onana to start throwing them in against Bayern Munich. That was followed by a clip going viral of Scott McTominay being outrun by the referee at the Allianz — 10 minutes after coming on.
Ten Hag needs to catch a break, and soon. His next six games are against Burnley, Crystal Palace (in the Premier League and Carabao Cup respectively), Galatasaray at home, Brentford and Sheffield United. The opportunity to turn a corner is there.
Ten Hag’s public falling out with Jadon Sancho has been another distraction at Man United
Summer signing Andre Onana’s mistake against Bayern was the last thing Ten Hag needed
Ten Hag desperately needs a victory against Burnley at Turf Moor to ease talk of a crisis
But if there is no shame in losing away to Bayern, Arsenal and Tottenham, patience among supporters could wear thin if there is not a significant improvement from this run of fixtures.
It has been shocking how quickly United have descended into crisis by September, and it could get worse yet. Turf Moor is an unforgiving place at the best of times, certainly under the floodlights. In Burnley, they still talk about the night they toppled Sir Alex Ferguson’s side there with Robbie Blake’s thumping winner, and the locals will be baying for blood again.
United are unbeaten in their last seven visits to Turf Moor, winning five.
Ten Hag desperately needs a victory on Saturday night.
‘There are no easy games, definitely not against Burnley,’ he said. ‘We know how intense they play football. But, at United, you have to win every game so it doesn’t change anything.’
Source From: Football | Mail Online