The understatement of the century would be to say that Erik Ten Hag simply ‘had some work to do’ when he took over at Manchester United ahead of the 2022/23 season.
In reality, he had a mountain to climb. Made tougher by the turbulence of the previous season and a number of incumbent features seeking to unsettle the changes he was brought in to make. And things didn’t get off to the best of starts.
A lacklustre 1-2 home defeat at the hands of Brighton served as a precursor to the 4-0 drubbing away at Brentford.
A behind-the-scenes ‘team run’ followed that defeat, as did a promise of much better things to come.
Here are five of the best Manchester United wins under Erik Ten Hag.
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool – 22nd August 2022
Critically, this fixture signalled the beginning of the end as far as Cristiano Ronaldo’s involvement in the Manchester United squad under Ten Hag was concerned.
The first in a number of ‘power plays’ the Dutchman would have to contend with, the front three of Rashford, Sancho and Elanga would steal the show instead. Had his strike been inches inside the post, the latter would join the same scoresheet as the former.
A common theme from the first couple of games (stemming from the previous season) was United’s lack of cohesion and playing identity. Their first goal of the evening put those fears to bed. A cut-throat pass from Lisandro Martinez, a give-and-go with Elanga, a neat turn and tap from Jadon Sancho, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Even through the television screen, it felt as though something was brewing at Old Trafford and everybody could feel it. Liverpool unexpectedly struggled to hurt them until after the break, and an embryonic example of Ten Hag’s in-game management took hold.
Replacing Elanga with Anthony Martial, the Frenchman took the ball on the half-turn 8 minutes into the second half to slide the ball through for Rashford. He slotted home at Alisson’s near post and the Stretford End erupted.
Not even a late Salah goal threatened to derail what was a momentous night for Manchester United fans.
Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal – 4th September 2022
With fixture congestion proving a more threatening opponent than most seasons because of the mid-season World Cup, an away day at Leicester came just 3 days before Arsenal.
Nevertheless, Ten Hag’s men did well to shut up shop with a 0-1 win before eyes turned to Old Trafford once more. This would be the first time they’d played there since Liverpool, and with the vessel beginning to turn away from the iceberg, speculation mounted as to whether the derby win was a single ‘fluke’ or a sign of things to come.
But Arsenal weren’t there to be turned over. They were arguably playing the best football in the league and threatened to cut through United during any lapse in concentration. Martinelli thought he exploited one after 13 minutes before VAR intervened.
Shortly after, it would be United’s very own Brazilian winger, Antony struck with the first legitimate conversion of the afternoon. A few kisses of the badge for good measure kept Old Trafford bouncing for the ninety. Even after Saka equalised with an hour on the clock.
It was an effort Marcus Rashford felt personally, so he took matters into his own hands with two goals before the game’s end. Each set up expertly; first by Bruno Fernandes and then by Christian Eriksen. 3-1 win. 4 wins from 4. Exactly what the doctor had ordered.
Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City – 14th January 2023
If fans didn’t expect to get anything from the eventual 6-3 loss at the Etihad in 2022, then even fewer suspected a turnaround in the reverse fixture in 2023.
Having said that, a free-scoring Manchester United came into this match off the back of scoring 9 goals in their last 3 wins. Then, with the fact that this would also be on home soil (like the other two wins we’ve already spoken about), perhaps there was a chance that they could upset those noisy neighbours of theirs.
Ten Hag lined up with his strongest formation possible, and Fred worked overtime to ensure that the Fernandes x Eriksen gap wasn’t breached very often. He also didn’t do too badly in man-marking the ever-present threat that is Kevin De Bruyne.
Though in a move that barely anybody could predict, Ten Hag chose to play Luke Shaw at centre-back, while Tyrell Malacia overtook his preferred role in the full-back region.
In hindsight, it proved to be a masterstroke as the Englishman’s all-round game did well to nullify Erling Haaland. However, Jack Grealish popped up with the visitors’ only goal.
A 1-0 deficit was usually enough to cripple the unconfident type of United side we’d been used to seeing in recent years, but a shift in mentality instilled by their manager only made them come back even stronger. After going a goal down, his side rallied to threaten City once more before a serious stroke of good fortune gave Bruno Fernandes the equaliser.
From that point on, City were shot, the Stretford End rose in anticipation and some good work from Alejandro Garnacho fed Marcus Rashford for the winner. It had been a while since they got one over their City brethren, and this one felt mighty sweet indeed.
Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona – 23rd February 2023
A blockbuster first leg at Camp Nou had set up a titillating encounter in the second round of the fixture back at Old Trafford, as both sides looked set to take their opponents to the sword for the want of progressing to the next stage of the UEFA Europa League.
For anybody thinking that the game might calm down a little from the first time out, a few early chances for either side soon put those ideas to rest.
Then came a rather fortuitous penalty for Barcelona midway through the second half, with Robert Lewandowski aiming to score in his first ever fixture at Old Trafford. A hop, a skip and a powerless hand from David De Gea gave him his maiden goal in this heralded venue.
With a precedent of learning from their mistakes coming clearer for Ten Hag’s men, the stadium grew in anticipation of what could come next in the second half.
Their answer came with Bruno Fernandes taking the ball in possession near the touchline at the Stretford End before firing the ball along the ground to Fred in the centre. He cushioned the ball nicely on his wrong foot before letting rip with his wrong shin.
It might have been a scruffy way to level the tie, but that’s exactly what it did. His next big effort was a lot worse; a soft left-footed shot rebounding off of Araujo in the Barcelona box before bouncing nicely into Antony’s path.
Many are quick to jump on the Brazilian’s antics on the right-wing, but his cultured left foot did enough to silence his critics on this occasion. Curling an effort passed Ter Stegen in goal to send his fans into raptures. Like the rest of these fixtures, their opponents didn’t recover in time to rebound from United’s second-half advantage. A major win for Ten Hag.
Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle – 26th February 2023
Much like the rest of their schedule since the resumption of the Premier League, United had only three days’ rest before meeting old foes Newcastle United for what was a far more important game than how it might have appeared to the naked eye.
At face value, this fixture looked like little more than two ‘has-beens’ fighting it out for some ‘Mickey Mouse trophy’ which nobody cared about.
Peeking beneath the surface, it was Newcastle’s first chance at silverware in 54 years. Meanwhile, United had been made to wait just 6 for theirs, only with a catalogue of major Ten Hag wins under their belt, they needed something more solid to refer to.
Sifting through the histories of their rivals, it always took one trophy win to inject the winning mentality required to sustain long-term success for their club.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣3️⃣ #CarabaoCup winners: Manchester United 🏆🤩 pic.twitter.com/7EbRHBihqe
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 26, 2023
A VAR-induced Casemiro header gave Manchester United the breathing room they needed, with Newcastle making the brighter start out of the two teams. Then, leave it up to Marcus Rashford to force a second with his strike rebounding off a hapless Sven Botman to bobble its way over third-choice goalkeeper, Loris Karius.
Ten Hag’s game management came to the fore once more, as he nullified Newcastle’s main threat on the left-hand side. On the eleventh-minute mark, Diogo Dalot’s struggles against Allan Saint-Maximin resulted in an early yellow card that the Frenchman was looking to exploit at every opportunity. Dalot was substituted at the break.
Replacement Aaron Wan-Bissaka became a candidate for the Cup Final’s ‘Man of the Match’ award, as his adversary was subbed only thirty minutes later as United cruised to a 2-0 victory. The only incident where they managed to keep a clean sheet in this entire list (which gave David De Gea the club record), and which resulted in a piece of silverware to leave Ten Hag’s men even hungrier for more.
Read – The Ultimate Big Game Player: Paying homage to Didier Drogba’s sensational cup final record
Read also – Player Analysis: Manchester United’s David de Gea Problem
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