Manchester United’s season is currently on pause for the World Cup, with several Red Devils’ stars lighting up the tournament in Qatar.

At United, work is ongoing behind the scenes to prepare for a busy second half of the season, with all to play for.

Before we get there, it’s time to reflect on a hectic start to life under new boss Erik ten Hag.

Here is a look at 21 conclusions from Manchester United’s season so far…

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Manchester United have the right manager at last

The struggle to replace Sir Alex Ferguson has been very real, and was an impossible task. United did not rush into a permanent appointment after sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, taking time to cherry pick Erik ten Hag.

Everything we have seen so far suggests Ten Hag is a shrewd choice, who is worth the wait. He is making positive early progress already.

Ten Hag has a steely determination about him, and has dealt with the Ronaldo circus impeccably. He has improved United in key areas, and his team have a clear identity already.

There will be bumps in the road, and it can’t be perfect straight away, but the start has been very encouraging. When the team do have poor results, they bounce back with a run of wins.

His commitment to giving young players a chance also makes him a good fit for United. He ticks all the boxes, and it feels like at last, we have the right manager in charge.

Manchester United are better off without Ronaldo

Manchester United’s progress this season has come in spite of Cristiano Ronaldo, not because of him.

Last season he struck 24 goals, this season just three, two of which came when the team was already winning against Sheriff Tiraspol.

Ronaldo admitted he has lost motivation and it shows. He has had fair chances, even made captain, but it has not sparked an upturn in performance.

United simply look better without him and the numbers back it up. His ruthless streak has gone, with his three shots from 56 attempts.

Bruno Fernandes’ best games come when Ronaldo is not in the line-up, while the team scored four goals against Villa when Ronaldo was absent.

United are better off without him from a distraction perspective, and also on the pitch. It’s time to move on.

The team can finally control the midfield

Manchester United games are now enjoyable to watch again. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it always felt like United were swimming against the tide, or running uphill. This was because the team had no control of the midfield.

Erik ten Hag’s razor sharp additions of Christian Eriksen and Casemiro have helped change that, along with his own coaching changes.

United regularly enjoy more possession than the opposition, and have a platform for success. The control United have in games has helped the team record a run of clean sheets, which were a high rarity last season.

In previous years we have seen cries for a defensive midfielder go ignored. Now we finally have one, arguably the best in the world.

Manchester United’s transfer window was a success

The summer 2022 transfer window did not run smoothly, there were some very concerning decisions with the way United went about their business. See Adrien Rabiot and Marko Arnautovic, and a three month pursuit of Frenkie de Jong.

But when all is said and done, the window appears to have been a huge success. United made five permanent signings, Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, and Antony, all of who have been big hits.

Martinez, Eriksen and Casemiro have each won player of the month awards already, and are all regulars in Ten Hag’s XI.

The window has changed United for the better, and the success rate strengthens Ten Hag’s hand for future windows.

Erik ten Hag takes every game seriously including the cups

Erik ten Hag has shown he does not like to rotate his team if he can help it. When he has a settled side which is winning, he will stick with it, fitness permitting.

The boss takes every game seriously. Matches at home to Omonia and Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League saw Ten Hag select his strongest side.

Even the Carabao Cup saw Ten Hag select the likes of Bruno Fernandes to start. The manager wants to win games, and wants to win trophies, and this come across with his selections each and every week.

Manchester United urgently need a new striker

20 goals from 14 Premier League games is not enough. Fulham and Leeds have both scored more goals than Manchester United.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit hastens United’s need to recruit this January, even if it is as a stop gap until next summer.

Anthony Martial’s injury issues have underlined that he cannot be relied upon. Marcus Rashford has done well, but United are one injury to Martial away from having to run Rashford into the ground – and this won’t end well.

Adding a new striker is essential simply to even stand still, let alone take a big step forward.

Alejandro Garnacho has taken the leap

Manchester United fans who watched Alejandro Garnacho in the FA Youth Cup last season recognised the club had a very special player on the books.

But there was no knowing whether he would get chances, or how he would adapt. A few months into the season, we have got the answers we wanted.

Garnacho has two goals, both winners, and two assists. He looks like a budding superstar, who Erik ten Hag feels like he can rely upon to make an impact.

Ten Hag will ensure Garnacho remains level headed. It’s clear United now have an exciting attacking option, who is making a case to start games. His ceiling is incredibly high, and a new contract for Garnacho should be a priority.

Diogo Dalot is United’s right-back of the future

Diogo Dalot was impressive in pre-season but questions still remained whether he could really kick on. After the first two matches of the season the jury was still out.

Since then Dalot has stepped up big time, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet, starting every match apart from one he was suspended for.

Dalot has played well defensively, and has added to his attacking game. He has more key passes this season already than the whole of last season.

He has been one of the most improved players in the Premier League this season. His form has effectively ended Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s career at Old Trafford.

At one stage, another right-back will be signed to compete with Dalot and provide cover. Whoever comes in will have a tough task to usurp Dalot.

Marcus Rashford is ‘back’ at last

Marcus Rashford ended last season in a terrible state, with his future at United called into question. Now he is looking like a key player once again.

Rashford has worked hard to regain his best form and has thrived under new boss Erik ten Hag. A new contract is now of utmost importance.

The forward has regained his England place and is currently Manchester United’s top goalscorer with eight goals, already eclipsing his tally from last season.

It is great to see Rashford enjoying his football again and there is a lot more to come from him.

Goalkeeper future still uncertain but David de Gea has a chance

Manchester United’s goalkeeper situation is unclear beyond this year. David de Gea is back to being the club’s top earner again since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure and his contract is up at the end of the season.

Many would like to see United sign a younger, more modern goalkeeper. A few names have already been linked, including Porto’s Diogo Costa.

De Gea’s performances are giving himself a chance of landing a new deal, possibly at a reduced salary.

The goalkeeper has kept a succession of clean sheets and is coming off his line more frequently. He is clearly improving under Erik ten Hag. A big decision awaits next summer.

Jadon Sancho has a lot to prove

While Marcus Rashford has taken a big leap forward this season, Jadon Sancho’s bright pre-season form has fizzled out.

He began the season sharply with three goals before the end of September, but has not found the net since. A spell out with illness saw his already slim England chances subside.

Sancho now sees a new threat to his position from Alejandro Garnacho, who looks quicker and more direct. The former Dortmund star will have to raise his game.

Lisandro Martinez is the culture changer United needed

Lisandro Martinez has been a huge signing. He stands tall in United’s defence, making a mockery of those who questioned if he could cut it in the Premier League.

The Argentine has brought a new attitude to United’s defence, a desire to win every ball, and this has rubbed off positively on his teammates and the supporters.

He is an early favourite to win the player of the season award, and is the defender United have lacked for years. Comparison to Nemanja Vidic do not look over exaggerated, and it’s clear why Ten Hag was so keen to sign him.

United can win the big games again

While the defeat at City was a blot on United’s season, the team have stepped up in the other big games on the fixture list.

The 2-1 victory over Liverpool felt seismic. Juergen Klopp’s side had beaten United a combined 9-0 across two games last season.

Key wins over Tottenham and Arsenal have shown the Liverpool result was no fluke. United have become a tough team to beat, capable of winning the big matches. This is a great trait for Ten Hag to instil in his side early.

Relying on Anthony Martial was asking for trouble

It became apparent in pre-season that Ten Hag was going to be reliant on Anthony Martial up front. This was a concept which caused concern among fans – with good reason.

Those doubts were realised before the season began when Martial picked up an injury, one of three he has suffered already. He has started only one Premier League game.

Martial is a top player, he has contributed well when he has been fit, but he is very clearly not a player the club can afford to rely on. Doing so in the second half of the season would be negligent.

Harry Maguire may not have a future at the club

£80 million defender Harry Maguire could have to leave the club in search of regular football at the end of the season.

He is currently fourth choice, and has rarely started even with Raphael Varane out injured. He has a big task to turn his club fortunes around.

It would not be a surprise to see United let him leave in the summer and sign a younger defender of Ten Hag’s choosing.

Scott McTominay has a big role to play

Scott McTominay ended last season poorly and began awfully against Brighton. He has quickly bounced back to prove himself as a key squad player under Erik ten Hag.

He has performed well in tandem with Christian Eriksen, and is an able back-up to Casemiro. The McFred midfield is thankfully a staple of the past, but McTominay appears to have won Ten Hag over.

Top four spot is in play this season

United entered this mid season break in fifth position with a game in hand. This provides a solid platform for the rest of the campaign.

Considering the poor start to the season this is a great place to be in, and United should fancy their chances of finishing in the top four.

It won’t be easy, the league is very competitive and there is lots of work still to be done, but it is a target which feels very achievable.

Securing Champions League football will only make Ten Hag’s job easier next season, and it could also be secured via a Champions League win.

Donny van de Beek’s future is more questionable than ever

Donny van de Beek would have felt that the arrival of his former Ajax boss at Old Trafford was a best case scenario. He has not had much luck under him so far.

Van de Beek spent the first part of the season injured or on the bench, and when he did get an opportunity in early November, he played poorly.

He will get the second half of the season to step up, but that’s as far as it goes. If he cannot make an impact, then it will be time for him to move on to try his luck elsewhere.

Facundo Pellistri’s dream may be over

Facundo Pellistri was United’s wildcard for the season after an injury blocked a loan move. He was judged fit enough to make the bench for the first game in October – and then proceeded not to play a single minute.

Even a Carabao Cup cameo eluded the winger, who was selected to start Uruguay’s World Cup opener last week.

Erik ten Hag obviously considers Pellistri is lacking something, and isn’t ready to contribute to his team.

An exit in January looks inevitable, either on loan or permanent.

Manchester United fans can believe again

Last season turned into a nightmare and United fans couldn’t wait for it to end. Now granted a mid-season break, we can’t wait for football to be back.

It feels like United are heading in the right direction once again, thanks to Ten Hag’s impressive management and the recent transfer market success.

The Glazers exploring sale options has heightened the excitement around the club right now. New owners to add to the new manager will make this a fresh start to really get excited about.

Step by step, it feels like the good times may finally be coming back to Old Trafford.

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