FA Cup win should not cloud judgement on Erik ten Hag’s future at Manchester United

Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup final was their only source of delight this season. Winning trophies has become a rarity for the Red Devils during the past decade. Hence, Erik ten Hag’s record of winning two trophies in as many years at the helm of Manchester United seems to be quite good.

However, with all due respect to the Dutchman and his team, it was a match in which the Cityzens had 73% ball-possession. Plus one of United’s goals came from a mistake by City’s defenders, Joško Gvardiol.
Undeniably all of that is part of the game and no effort is being made on our part to undermine United’s achievements. However, one cannot put too much emphasis on a one-off win in a cup final, when the lack of good performance in a marathon league tells a different story.

Manchester United Had a Forgettable Season Overall

United finished eighth in Premier League with 60 points in 38 matches, which is only two more their worst-ever tally. They have also never finished lower than eighth in Premier League. To add to that, they finished last in their group in UEFA Champions League. That Group had teams like Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen, which are not quite in United’s league in terms of stature.
All of it points towards a dismal showing that cannot be compensated by a win over a Manchester City side, which had every reason to be complacent after their unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row a week before.

No Progressive Philosophy Can Be Seen in ten Hag’s Team

United only seems to be adept at one particular style of play under ten Hag, which is to crowd their own defensive third and play a long ball forward to one of their forwards while breaking on a counter.
As mentioned earlier, they followed the same approach against City in the FA Cup final. Bruno Fernandes played as the false nine and Scott McTominay, Kobbie Mainoo and Sofyan Amrabat were the three defensive midfielders, meaning United had four midfielders dropping back to crowd the central areas at times.
That is an acceptable approach while playing against a dominant team like Manchester City, though it does not guarantee success every time. However, against smaller teams, that playing style will not pass muster often, as such teams might go for a draw to get a point. Hence, United has struggled to beat smaller teams often, as their attacking play is not potent enough.

Various Stats Point to Manchester United’s Defensive Approach

Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund and Alejandro Garnacho scored 34 goals between them this season, which is still less than Erling Haaland’s individual tally. United have benefited immensely from the goals scored by defensive players like Scott McTominay, Casemiro and Harry Maguire, without which their position in the league table would have been even worse.
Yes, Manchester United missed a number of their defenders through injuries over a period of time. However, that does not quite explain why the Red Devils scored only 57 goals in 38 matches in their league campaign and ended the season with a negative goal-difference.
Among the other top teams, Tottenham Hotspur has scored the fewest goals with 74, which is still considerably more than ten Hag’s team’s tally. To put things in perspective, a team like Newcastle United, which is still not considered among the elite in England, scored 85 goals in their league campaign. Manchester City, the champions, scored 96.
If anything, United has looked a better defensive side than they have looked an offensive one despite injuries to their defensive players. That goes a long way towards describing their defensive approach to the game.
Chelsea, who finished a couple of places above Manchester United in the Premier League, sacked Mauricio Pochettino, their manager. If one takes a closer look, one will see that Chelsea looked more vibrant upfront than United on a regular basis. Had it not been for Nicolas Jackson’s profligacy and Christopher Nkunku’s prolonged absence, the Blues would probably have finished higher.
Those numbers and facts are key to put things in context and also prevent the Manchester United supporters from being deluded by a win, albeit in a cup final. Hence, one should not put too much emphasis on that while ten Hag’s future as the manager of the Red Devils.

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