Erik ten Hag has began work as Manchester United manager with the former Ajax coach the latest man tasked with reviving the fortunes of a struggling side.
United ended last season with their lowest ever Premier League points total to miss out on Champions League qualification, conceding a high of 57 goals and ending the campaign without a positive goal difference for the first time since 1989/90.
Ten Hag faces a major rebuild at Old Trafford and there is expected to be huge changes in personnel this summer. The 52-year-old also faces big decisions on a number of the current squad and we’ve decided to look at five big names players who could cause the new manager a headache.
David de Gea
David de Gea might yet end this season with a record-extending fifth Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, with the goalkeeper having been a rare positive in an otherwise miserable season in Manchester.
De Gea remains a superb shot-stopper and those elite reactions were evident throughout a campaign in which the Spaniard came under huge pressure, as the club’s defensive deficiencies provided a platform for the 31-year-old to exhibit the best of his talents.
We now focus on 2022/23 💪🏼 https://t.co/IQMobT5b9L
— David de Gea (@D_DeGea) May 25, 2022
The problem for Ten Hag will come as he attempts to build a more proactive and dominant side, a situation which could expose the flaws in De Gea’s game.
De Gea has shown a reluctance to come off his line and his distribution is far from the standard of the leading goalkeepers in the division. The evolution of goalkeepers at the highest level requires more than shot-stopping and Ten Hag could look towards a number one who is more comfortable and capable with the ball at his feet.
The Dutchman was reportedly interested in signing Dean Henderson on loan for Ajax in January and could offer the England goalkeeper a chance to prove his worth, though De Gea’s huge wages mean a potential exit is difficult.
How to solve a problem like Harry Maguire?
Maguire has been the leading target for criticism in a campaign in which club and player have struggled badly, producing a series of unconvincing performances and appearing to lose confidence.
The England international has looked a shadow of the centre-back who has regularly performed with the national side, whilst his role as captain has been questioned given his own poor form and reports of a divided dressing room.
Disappointing end to a season full of lows , we are so hurt with how this season as gone. The squad take full responsibility and we know that what we have shown is nowhere near good enough for this club. pic.twitter.com/Q8ZFBkfJ5K
— Harry Maguire (@HarryMaguire93) May 22, 2022
Ten Hag’s desire to operate with a high defensive line also threatens Maguire’s role, with his lack of pace having been exposed on occasion this season.
The Dutchman praised the 29-year-old during his first press conference as United boss, though the Red Devils are expected to sign at least one new centre-back this summer with Ajax youngster Jurrien Timber believed to be a leading target.
“I have to repeat that next season is a different season but I think he did a great job. He’s a great player, he’s achieved already a lot really also [with his] contribution to Manchester United. So I’m looking forward to working with him,” Ten Hag told reporters at his unveiling press conference.
Give Maguire cost a world-record fee of £80m, it is likely the Red Devils will want to find a role for the defender. Any departure would come at a significant financial loss.
Bruno Fernandes suffered a sharp downturn in form during the 2021/22 campaign, failing to reach the levels of his outstanding introduction into English football.
Fernandes scored a Premier League record for a midfielder of 28 goals in all competitions during his first full season in the division, but after 30 league goal involvements in 2020/21 his output dropped to just 16 this time around.
Season over and none of our goals was accomplished. I know that individually and collectively it was not at the level that we should be. pic.twitter.com/bbVPaC8eV9
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) May 23, 2022
The Portugal international signed a new long-term deal in April, committing his future to the club until 2026. He will likely be at the centre of plans moving forward, but his wastefulness in possession – often trying to find the final pass – has frustrated this season.
Fernandes is a footballer who operates off-the-cuff and how his style fits in with the tactical approach of Ten Hag remains to be seen. The midfielder’s finest form has come as a number ten with a licence to roam, but will he be granted such freedom under the incoming boss?
It’s been a sharp decline for Marcus Rashford, whose recent omission from the England squad came as a little surprise given his struggles over the past 18 months.
Rashford reached 20+ goals in all competitions in both 2019/20 and 2020/21, but managed just five this season in a campaign that saw him struggle for form, fitness and favour at Old Trafford.
The 24-year-old recently moved past 300 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils, a remarkable number of games given his age, but his finishing and decision-making in the final third remain erratic.
Ten Hag has a proven track-record in improving underperforming attacking assets with the likes of Dusan Tadic and Sebastien Haller among the names to have shone under his guidance, whilst his forward-thinking philosophy could help bring the best from Rashford.
This season shapes as a huge one for Rashford, who will need to up his levels significantly to remain a part of the plans at his boyhood side.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s individual brilliance has bailed out Manchester United on occasion this season and Ten Hag has spoken of his excitement at working alongside the club’s leading scorer.
Ronaldo’s match-winning moments helped a dysfunctional team avoid total disaster in 2021/22, but the challenge will now be accommodating the veteran in the new era.
The Portugal captain will turn 38 next season and there are question marks over how he will fit into Ten Hag’s plans, as the Dutchman looks to implement his favoured philosophy at Old Trafford.
Can the Red Devils become a successful side with others taking on an added workload to accommodate the ageing icon, whilst his presence has appeared to intimidate those around him. That, however, could be a clear sign of the lack of characters currently in the Red Devils dressing room.
Another centre-forward is no doubt needed to share the load, but will Ronaldo be content with a lesser role next season?