Erik ten Hag is reigniting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plan for Manchester United forwards
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were key players for Manchester United under the previous manager, and Erik ten Hag believes in them as well.
Regardless of what his many detractors stated, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had big plans for Manchester United. He just didn’t get to see it all the way through.
The question of whether Solskjaer had all the managerial talents he needed to carry out his ambitious plan to return United to the top of English football is now moot. He most likely did not, despite his good intentions and constructive actions throughout his three years at Old Trafford.
But that doesn’t mean his new long-term successor, Erik ten Hag, can destroy Solskjaer’s plan or disregard the Norwegian’s wise words on individual players. Ten Hag’s job is to develop and improve Solskjaer’s United, not to tear it down and rebuild it.
Ten Hag has already demonstrated that he understands this complexity and that, rather than listening to many conservative followers on social media who want a revolution, he is the perfect candidate for a United development.
This is especially evident in Ten Hag’s attitude to United’s frontline, which was clearly struggling under Solskjaer and subsequently Ralf Rangnick last season. In the instance of Edinson Cavani’s injuries and Jadon Sancho’s adaptation phase to English football, both individuals were victims of misfortune. Mason Greenwood was also placed on indefinite leave.
With Ronaldo’s arrival not proving to be the panacea that some expected, and other players out of form, United’s forward line was in shambles by the conclusion of the season.
United failed to score in their final two league games, both away losses. They scored just 14 goals in their final 14 games from February 20th to the end of the season, with nine of them coming in three home victories over Tottenham, Norwich, and Brentford.
In summary, it wasn’t a good time to smile at United, as evidenced by several players’ body language. Marcus Rashford, in particular, appeared to be a shell of his former self. Under Rangnick, the player who had succeeded in the post-lockdown phase under Solskjaer and at other times under the old manager appeared to be lacking confidence.
Anthony Martial was loaned out to Sevilla by the German interim manager in January and displayed a similar lack of confidence and enthusiasm. Sancho fought hard but was stranded in a failing team, according to Bruno Fernandes.
It was a far cry from what Solskjaer had in mind for these players. Back in that Project Restart period in 20202, the Norwegian was effusive about two of United’s fluid frontline players after they both scored in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.
“When Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial go out onto the pitch for a shift, they go out with a smile and they defend each other,” Solskjaer stated.
“We must smile and proceed; we have earned this privilege. At Manchester United, you have to stand out and express your personality.”
It’s early days for Ten Hag’s United, but so far in pre-season, he’s preferred a front three similar to the one Solskjaer preferred, with Martial and Rashford interchanging in the central and left positions, and Sancho — a long-time primary target for the previous permanent manager — wreaking havoc from the right. Behind them, Fernandes is the ideal no.10.
It worked well throughout the preseason, and most importantly, the players appear to be confident and comfortable in their duties. As Ten Hag may discover in the near future, that may go a long way in football.
The front four that Solskjaer craved, having bought Fernandes and (later) Sancho, may be bearing dividends.