Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is continuing to learn more about his team each week. This time around there were some harsh lessons dealt out.
United were soundly beaten, by a scoreline of 6-3, with his players wilting amid the heat brought by Phil Foden and Erling Haaland.
As much as Ten Hag will have learned, we continue to learn more about him each and every week.
Ten Hag reluctant to change a winning team
Erik ten Hag stuck to his guns and went up against City with the team which had won four Premier League matches before the break.
United’s momentum had been lost due to the three week break, but Ten Hag came into this fixture with an idea of how he wants to set his side up.
This is likely to change amid a hectic month and the nature of this defeat, and fringe players will get chances to stake their claims.
What Ten Hag operates is a ‘meritocracy’, where opportunities are earned and not given. Of course it would have been tempting for him to put Casemiro into this starting line-up, based on reputation and big game experience. But he felt Scott McTominay deserved it based on previous form.
Whether this was right or wrong is open to interpretation, but it’s clear Ten Hag has a philosophy he will stick to, that players won’t be unjustly dropped, and this will earn the respect of the team.
A reluctance to change a winning team is a positive. Ten Hag could have tinkered with his line-up, and probably would have lost anyway. This way he goes down with the ship knowing he selected a team which had previously proved to him it was his best option.
Able to re-adjust and motivate his players
United froze on the big stage and were simply outplayed by a well-oiled slick Manchester City, who took advantage of any little mistake the away side made.
At 4-0 down at half-time, the scoreline could have got a lot worse. United actually came out of the second half with some credit, winning it 3-2.
The players did not give up, and Erik ten Hag deserves credit for this, for instilling the right attitude into them.
He told the club website: “I had to change the attitude of the team. I think that was the reaction in the second half, we were more brave, we came into their half, we created chances, and we scored three goals.”
He wants movement and pace in his attack
Erik ten Hag made clear after the game he did not want to humiliate Cristiano Ronaldo by bringing him on when the team were 4-0 down. We can respect that.
But the decision he made to leave Ronaldo out of his starting line-up was a tell, that he does not believe fully in the Portugal forward.
Striker was the one uncertainty heading into this game amid his desire not to change a largely winning line-up.
Marcus Rashford had been in a fitness battle heading into the game, having missed two Europa League matches which Ronaldo started, and also missing out on the England squad. Anthony Martial had not started a game all season either.
Bringing Ronaldo into the team was the one alteration to Ten Hag’s preferred line-up which seemed plausible – but the manager made very clear he valued Rashford’s pace and movement against City, even if there were some question marks over his sudden recovery from injury.
There are no games guaranteed for Ronaldo any more in this team. Anthony Martial’s return makes it very possible Ronaldo will start neither matches against Omonia or Everton over the next week.