Four players Erik ten Hag must rejuvenate at Manchester United

After months of speculation, Erik ten Hag has reached an agreement in principle with Manchester United to become their next permanent manager (per The Athletic). The Dutchman was the overwhelming first choice among fans, and although a deal is still yet to be finalised it seems United finally have their man.

The 52-year-old Ajax manager is known for his progressive, fluid brand of football, as well as his ability to adapt and evolve tactically across various iterations of his teams – something that will surely excite Manchester United fans.

However, Ten Hag will be walking into a fractured and fragmented United dressing room this summer, knowing that he will have to rejuvenate a number of underperforming individuals if he’s to have immediate success.

While you can make the argument the whole squad needs lifting, here’s four players in particular Ten Hag needs to get the best out of.

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Aaron Wan-Bissaka

It isn’t so much a case of reigniting Wan-Bissaka for Eric ten Hag, rather, igniting him full stop.

The former Crystal Palace right back has rarely lived up to his billing since sealing his £50m move to United in 2019, and question marks continue to surround his abilities as a modern fullback.

Defensively the 24-year-old has proven solid enough, but all too often we have seen his limitations as an attacking threat. It also doesn’t help that so many world-class right backs operate in England, with Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, and João Cancelo (the latter of whom United were advised to sign before Wan-Bissaka) all setting the standard for modern Premier League fullbacks.

Wan-Bissaka also lost his place in the first eleven to Diogo Dalot when Ralf Rangnick first arrived as interim manager, and it remains to be seen who the incoming manager sees as his first choice right-back. Nevertheless, Ten Hag still has the task of doing what Ole Gunnar Solskjær tried but ultimately failed to do with Wan-Bissaka – coaching a more potent attacking element into his game. If Ten Hag can’t bring out the best in the England defender going forward it’s hard to see the him having a longterm future at the club.

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Donny van de Beek

Few players in United’s dressing room will be as excited as Donny van de Beek at the prospect of Eric ten Hag in the Old Trafford dugout next season.

The midfielder, who is currently on loan at Everton, barely featured for United under Solskjær, and was loaned out to the Toffees shortly after Rangnick arrived in order to prove himself as a Premier League midfielder. The Dutchman has had a steady if not spectacular time with Everton so far, impressing as a press-resistant and surprisingly combative midfielder on his debut before picking up an injury prior to Everton’s recent game with West Ham.

Van de Beek knows Ten Hag extremely well, having played under him at Ajax and being a key part of his team that reached the Champions League semi-final in 2019, knocking out holders Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus along the way. During this run, van de Beek established himself as one of Europe’s most sought-after midfielders, and finished on the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or that year.

If any manager can get the best out of Donny it’s Ten Hag, and with the dearth of midfielder options currently at the club the Dutchman may finally get the chance to stamp his authority on the United first team. 

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Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire has had a torrid season by all accounts this year, but Erik ten Hag may be exactly the kind of coach the central defender needs.

It wasn’t too long ago that fans were lamenting the fact Maguire would miss the Europa League final, a testament to how highly rated he was by fans. The centre back was also arguably England’s standout player at the Euros, highlighted by his inclusion in the Team of the Tournament. He has not suddenly become a bad player overnight.

Ten Hag is a huge advocate of playing out from the back, and demands his defenders to be good distributors – both qualities Maguire possesses. In fact, the United skipper has many of the attributes Ten Hag would ideally look for in a centre back – good on the ball, a progressive passer, someone who can build out from the back and carry the ball confidently into midfield.

If both can stay fit, Varane x Maguire has all the makings of a solid centre back partnership, with Varane being the more mobile of the two and a reliable cover option for any balls in behind or over United’s back line. Ten Hag just has to somehow instil some much-needed confidence in Maguire and help him rediscover his form from a season ago.

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Marcus Rashford

How do you solve a problem like Marcus Rashford?

For so long the Golden Boy of Manchester United embodied everything good about the club’s ethos: quick, direct, exciting, and a hugely respectable role model on and off the pitch. In the 2019/20 season, Rashford scored 22 goals and registered 12 assists in 44 games across all competitions, and the season after netted 21 times in 57 games with 15 assists.

However, this impressive form came amidst shoulder and foot injuries, with ESPN reporting in April 2021 that Rashford had not played a game pain-free in over two years.

The 24-year-old had a disappointing Euros, and this season has endured his worst campaign in a Manchester United shirt, scoring just five times across all competitions.

Rashford, like so many others in the current squad, has undoubtedly paid the price for the lack of a well-structured coaching plan at United over recent years, but Ten Hag represents a new dawn, and the Dutchman’s proclivity for width is particularly pertinent when it comes to Rashford.

Ten Hag has shown a preference for inverted wingers who can cut inside with great pace and shoot from distance, something Rashford has proven he can do on numerous occasions. Ten Hag has utilised the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Antony in this fashion to devastating effect over recent seasons, and there’s no reason why Marcus can’t be as equally dangerous in Ten Hag’s United team.

Next season feels as though it’s make or break for Marcus Rashford’s Manchester United career, and if he fails to deliver both he and the club may agree to go their separate ways. Ten Hag will undoubtedly have a big influence on that decision either way.

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.