Erik Ten Hag is trying to build something special at Old Trafford. Although the Dutch head coach is giving fans plenty of optimism for the rest of the season, the chances of being crowned league champions are not particularly viable.
Following the enforced break for the FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar, Manchester United came out of the starting blocks with fire in their belly to register a comfortable 3-0 success over lowly Nottingham Forest. The struggling Midlands side are not the real litmus test for the second half of the English Premier League (EPL) campaign.
And with only a pair of recognized strikers at Ten Hag’s disposal, following the controversial exit of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, the Red Devils should prepare for the future. It’s not just an improvement in front of goal that United require, there’s the matter of defense, instilling a more creative midfield, and whether they will let shot-stopper David De Gea leave at the end of the season.
Ten Hag’s tenure is gradually winning over fans and pundits alike, as he clawed back credibility following their shocking start to the EPL season.
Although pre-season friendlies suggested that United would be a force to be reckoned with, when the competitive matches kicked off there were signs that the team was easy prey.
Despite making five permanent signings in the shape of Antony, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia, and Lisandro Martinez, the side initially failed to gel.
With Chelsea giving head coach Thomas Tuchel the boot early on, Ten Hag needed to swiftly turn things around to save his skin in case the German replaced him. Bookmakers, including those with online casinos and slot sites in UK, are keeping close tabs on whether Ten Hag will see the season out.
Some tinkering with his squad, which included dropping Ronaldo to a bit part role, paid dividends as the panic was soon over for United. A steady climb up the table to be within reach of a highly-lucrative Champions League berth means the pressure is off Ten Hag for the time being.
Rather than splash the cash again, Ten Hag has triggered one-year extensions for a quartet of key players. Defensive duo Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw, attacking midfielder Fred and striker Marcus Rashford remain in his plans.
Rashford and Anthony Martial are their only recognized senior strikers with Ronaldo’s contract terminated following a blistering attack in a controversial TV interview. The Portuguese icon is moving to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia, which will end the recent nightmare of his disastrous sentimental return to Old Trafford.
The club were forced to act following Ronaldo’s strong criticism of former teammates, coach, and the club. Yet they need to now make a big-money acquisition during the winter market.
Already United has been dealt a significant blow before the transfer window has even opened. Liverpool hijacked their proposed move for PSV forward Cody Gakpo, a player that Ten Hag had wanted since the summer.
However, it appears that United’s hierarchy are backing him by allowing him to make decisions. His next set of decisions are whether he will strengthen his squad.
Fans and the media will be trying to push names into the frame for Ten Hag to bring in, but he won’t buckle into panic buying.
Dalot is fast improving with Malacia and Shaw showing support. Yet with Aaron Wan-Bissaka disappearing, Ten Hag urgently requires a solid right back if United are going to remain competitive
An experienced midfield, in the mold of the outstanding Casemiro, would be welcomed at Old Trafford. Yet the most important gap to plug is to who can fill Ronaldo’s boots and become a ruthless attacker.
There are always candidates, but really it boils down to just a trio of European-based hotshots. Jonathan David, Lautaro Martinez, and Victor Osimhen should all be on Ten Hag’s radar. David’s World Cup showing for Canada was frustrating, as he failed to find the back of the net in his three appearances.
Argentina World Cup winner Martinez, who signed a new deal at Inter Milan last year, is a prospect who has yet to peak so could be a gamble. If United want guile, pace and power then Nigerian international Osimhen is their man.
He’s banging in the goals for Italian runaway leaders Napoli, so may be wary of missing out on winning a league title to play at Old Trafford. Ten Hag realizes that the season is not a sprint, and with over half of the campaign yet to be played then he must find the right balance to ensure that United book their Champions League spot.