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Paul Merson: Can Man United Turn Things Around Under Erik ten Hag?

In his latest column, Sky Sports’ Paul Merson says he struggles to see how things improve for Manchester United under boss Erik ten Hag and suggests something has to change at Old Trafford….

By Paul Merson, Football Expert & Columnist @PaulMerse

6:16, UK, Wednesday 17 January 2024

Erik ten Hag is still under serious pressure at Manchester United.

If you look at Tottenham and their boss Ange Postecoglou, who only joined in the summer, he’s been there about 10 minutes but already his players know what he expects from them and from watching the 2-2 draw with United at Old Trafford, it looks like they know what they are trying to do. There’s a plan there and everyone looks on the same page.

On the other hand, watching Man Utd, it’s chalk and cheese in comparison to Spurs. At times it looks good, but more often than not there is nothing there. On Sunday against Spurs, I hardly heard Bruno Fernandes’ name but he’s their best player. He should be on the ball all of the time. Why can’t United find solutions to get him the ball?

It’s all so scruffy from United.

‘Something has to change at Man Utd’

Ten Hag has lost nearly half of his football matches this season. I don’t care if you are managing the bottom side in League Two, with form like that you’d do well to keep your job.

They are such a long way off the pace. I wasn’t shocked they didn’t beat Spurs on Sunday. It’s just where they are as a club. The reality is they are eight points behind Spurs and Arsenal, who also have a game in hand.

It’s just so stop-start. They get a win or two here or there but that’s it before a couple of defeats or draws follow. It feels like Ten Hag gets the games he needs at just the right time. He gets a game where he can sneak a win and that just keeps his head above water.

Roy Keane and Jamie Redknapp discuss Marcus Rashford’s first goal at Old Trafford since May 2023 and his celebration, after he helped the Red Devils to a 2-2 draw.

The players are also so up and down. One minute they are amazing and then they are not. They are going from nine out of 10s one week to not even a five the next. Ten Hag has to find a way to get these players performing consistently, putting in seven and eights out of 10 week in week out.

The consistency is just not there.

When do you start expecting better things from them? I personally think it’s gone past that. I can’t really see it getting better any time soon. For me, I can see them keeping going as they are winning a game here or there to cover over the cracks before losing a game here or there.

Something has to give soon. Something has to change at Old Trafford.

‘INEOS have to hit the ground running’

Image:
Director of sport at INEOS Sir Dave Brailsford (second right) in the stands during Man Utd’s FA Cup win against WIgan at the DW Stadium

The new investors have to hit the ground running.

They need change and they started that with the departure of Jadon Sancho on loan to Borussia Dortmund.

With that deal, you have to believe the manager is staying long-term and in fairness, if you get rid of Ten Hag, how many managers are out there who you could get in as a replacement? Could you tempt a Carlo Ancelotti for a season or so? It’s debatable.

What United do need is stability. They’ve done the changing manager thing a number of times since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. It hasn’t worked.

The Super Sunday panel share their thoughts on Manchester United’s pulling power, poor recent signings, and how Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham swerved a move to Old Trafford in favour of German outfit Borussia Dortmund.

We’ve seen Mikel Arteta at Arsenal backed. When many were calling for change, the Gunners gave him a chance to stamp his authority at the club and look where they are now.

It’s all well and good me questioning Ten Hag and speculating how he can keep his job, but if someone else comes in I don’t think United’s fortunes turn around overnight.

However, the club don’t have any excuses now. The players and manager can’t stand behind the owners. they have to start winning football matches.

‘Spurs improvement deserves credit’

Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“There’s been a lot of praise for Tottenham and credit where credit is due, they’ve come a long way.

“Look at where they’ve been in the last years, it feels like they have a plan now under Postecoglou. They have bought well, brought some good players and they are a good football team.

“They are a bit loose at times but they play entertaining football.

“The problem they have, a bit like Man Utd and Chelsea, is they can be inconsistent. They will have a poor result like the heavy defeat at Brighton. But then they can turn things around with a few good wins before another poor result.

“I like the way they play and to me, it looks like they are getting somewhere.

“The aim for them this season has to be top-four. I can’t see them finishing above Arsenal and Liverpool because I still think the style is a bit gung ho. It’s you have a shot and we have a shot and that’s where the inconsistency comes for Spurs.

“They are in a battle to qualify for the Champions League with Aston Villa and from where they’ve been, that has to be a positive.”

‘De Bruyne was like a 20-year-old playing in an U12s league’

Kevin De Bruyne made a dream return from injury, scoring an equaliser and later assisting the winner as Manchester City came from behind to beat Newcastle 3-2 in the Premier League.

Away from Old Trafford, Kevin De Bruyne showed everyone just what Man City have been missing.

He came on at St James’ Park and looked like a 20-year-old playing in an U12s league. He was head and shoulders above everyone else on the football pitch. Thierry Henry used to do the same at his peak for Arsenal in the Premier League.

Doing what he did after the length of time he was on the sidelines, it was from another planet. He wasn’t playing against a team bottom of League Two in the FA Cup. He was up against international players on a big stage. He stood out like a sore thumb.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola praised the return of Kevin De Bruyne after his match-winning contribution from the bench against Newcastle.

There are levels in football. De Bruyne is on the top shelf of players in the Premier League. What he did on Saturday, no-one else can do. It’s just phenomenal.

It was a scary cameo for the rest of the Premier League.

What’s more, City will have Erling Haaland back too in the next few weeks. They have £200m footballers coming back into what is already a star-studded squad.

He came on at St James’ Park and looked like a 20-year-old playing in an U12s league. He was head and shoulders above everyone else on the football pitch.

Paul Merson on Kevin De Bruyne’s cameo at Newcastle

‘City are relentless’

Image:
Kevin De Bruyne made his first Premier League appearance since injuring his hamstring on the opening day of the season

Man City are now in a brilliant position.

They are two points off top spot and they haven’t really got into gear yet. They’ve been without two of their most influential players for a substantial amount of time and they are still there or there abouts. It tells you everything you need to know about City and the strength of the club.

I said a few weeks ago that I thought Arsenal would win the Premier League. They were flying and playing really well. However, things change quickly. The defeats against West Ham and Fulham in the league and Liverpool in the FA Cup highlighted their need for a forward.

Sky Sports News reporter Keith Downie reflects on what Manchester City’s late comeback win against Newcastle could mean as they sit two points behind league leaders Liverpool.

They still have a chance, of course. But the problem they have now is you can see City going on one of their trademark runs, reeling off 10 wins on the bounce. It’s relentless.

They absolutely destroyed Newcastle. The second-half was absolutely relentless and we are talking about them against one of the supposed top teams. Nearly every other team struggles at St James’ Park and if they do manage a positive result there, we are waxing lyrical about them.

City go there and just dominate. It was mind-blowing.

Can anyone stop City?

Pep Guardiola’s side are easily favourites to win a fourth straight league now.

We are at the stage now where there is no room for error for any team trying to wrestle the title from City. Liverpool travel to Arsenal in a couple of weeks and a draw is no good for either side. Usually, you’d say a draw would be a good result for Liverpool at the Emirates, but not now with City in this mood.

Since a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa in December, City have won eight of their last nine games in all competitions. It’s felt like they’ve done that without us even knowing.

They’ve won their last three games in the league and now with Burnley, Brentford twice, Everton, Chelsea at home, Bournemouth, Man Utd at home before they travel to Anfield to face Liverpool, I can see them winning all those games and there’s your run of 10 successive victories in the league.

We’ve seen this too many times from City. No-one can string wins together like they do.

I heard a stat on TV the other day about City and I nearly fell of my chair. From the 2017/18 season, in games from January until the end of the season, they average dropping 10 points a season. That’s over a significant chunk of time. It’s incredible.

They have had their bad results this season. That will give others hope but at this point of the season, this is when Pep gets them going and we’ve seen this story unfold time and time again with City. City just win, win, win and win, and win some more. That’s the difference.

Have Chelsea turned a corner?

Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“At Chelsea, on the whole, we now know the team Mauricio Pochettino is likely to pick.

“It is starting to pick itself and that is now a real positive for Pochettino. Consistency in selection is so important for a manager and also the players. You can see the relationships are starting to build and that can only be positive moving forward because they are a young team.

“There’s Petrovic, Guston, Disasi, Silva and Colwill. Then in front of that you’ve got Fernandez, Caicedo and Gallagher with Sterling, Palmer and either Jackson or Broja. That’s roughly been the team for a good few weeks now.

“In the early weeks of the season, if you sat down with 10 Chelsea fans and asked them to name the team, i doubt any of them get it right. Now you might be one or two out but that’s all. There’s a consistency at the club now.

“There are still concerns for me. The defeat at Middlesbrough wasn’t good. They can string two or three results together but then you throw in a defeat like in the Carabao Cup. You shouldn’t really be losing at Middlesbrough. It’s two legs so it is not critical but had Chelsea won that game they’d now be on a run of five straight wins.

“Building momentum is crucial in football because winning breeds confidence, but like the defeat to Middlesbrough you thrown in a Wolves defeat. They have to find consistency. You sometimes feel they take a few steps forward but they slip in a defeat and you are back to square one.

“They have a big few games coming up now. Their season is on the line to a certain extent.

“They play Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg before hosting Aston Villa in the FA Cup. The cups are all they have to play for now and despite all the difficulties, Chelsea could be in a cup final.”


2024-01-17 09:13:50
#Paul #Merson #improving #Manchester #United #change #Football #News

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