Erik ten Hag‘s first competitive game as Manchester United manager ended in a dismal defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion.
Nobody is blaming Ten Hag for United’s failings. The defeat lays square at the doors of the board for delivering a below par squad.
The Dutchman is here for the long haul, and as Gary Neville pointed out on Sky Sports, ‘reality has hit home’.
Here is a look at three things we learned about Ten Hag from United’s opening day loss…
Ready to make big calls
Ten Hag did not panic with Anthony Martial being absent. He was prepared to make the big call and leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.
Whether this was the right or wrong decision (you can argue wrong because United lost), is immaterial. He was brave enough to make the call.
Ronaldo had only played 45 minutes of pre-season football. Ten Hag viewed him as behind the rest of the group. He did not sway, purely because of a lack of options.
Manchester United need a manager who is not afraid to leave out big names. This was one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s downfalls. Every player should be on notice.
He also threw Lisandro Martinez in to make his debut in the first game of the season. This was not the safe option.
The more conservative choice would have been to select Raphael Varane, or Victor Lindelof, not even on the bench.
Was it the right call? The result would suggest not, but Ten Hag values the attributes Martinez offers highly, and is determined to bed him into the defence. Making this call early on was a brave move.
Prepared to innovate tactically
Ten Hag’s solution for Ronaldo’s absence was to play Christian Eriksen as a false nine. Then later on the Dane was deployed as a deep midfielder, with Fred taken off.
United began the game with promising attacking movement which carved out Bruno Fernandes’ early chance.
This wasn’t simply a case of dropping Ronaldo to start another striker. Ten Hag left out the number 7 to try an entirely new approach.
The idea should be commended, even if the execution was poor. Manchester United’s new manager has a vision, he was just let down by a frankly awful midfield which is not anywhere close to being up to standard.
He has a lot to learn about his players
Erik ten Hag’s main fault at Manchester United so far has been that he has been overly optimistic on some of the players who have been proven to be sub-standard.
Ten Hag should have placed more value in advice meted out by Ralf Rangnick that a total overhaul was required.
The Dutchman has given too many players the benefit of the doubt, and a clean slate. He is going to have to learn the hard way.
Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, and David de Gea are all players with major weaknesses to their games which may be irredeemable. Ten Hag will try to work with them, before he gets burned like his predecessors.
At the moment they may represent some of his more preferable starting options, but his patience won’t last. United need to back him to replace them, if he is simply unable to improve them.