Erik ten Hag’s second season at Utrecht saw the introduction of European football. His second season at Ajax gave him his first trophy and led the club to the brink of the Champions League final. His profession has taught him that when it clicks, it clicks.
What are the chances of it happening at Manchester United? Two wins in three games is an improvement over last season, but it has been a rocky start, with close home victories against anticipated strugglers Wolves and Nottingham Forest appearing unconvincing.
The loss at Tottenham raised harsh criticism, raised questions about the midfield’s composition, and raised fears that something is still missing. But there is also hope. Ten Hag’s ability to lead this club ahead has been bolstered by late-season arrivals.
During our chat at the club’s training facility, he will address the shortcomings in both defense and attack in blunt words, acknowledging the problems. But he also wants to convey calm ahead of a crucial encounter against Arsenal on Sunday. There is no need to be alarmed.
“I’ve seen a lot of Premier League games already,” he says Sky Sports. “None of the teams are in the right shape or form yet.” That is usual at the beginning of a season. Everything must settle and improve. That is our responsibility as managers.”
He also noticed better indicators versus Forest.
“We improved in terms of attitude, resilience, and determination.” We dominated the way we did it. We even had 90% possession for stretches of the game, so we pinned them back and created many chances despite their compactness.”
The underlying data are also encouraging. Ten Hag discussed developing United into a pressing machine over the summer, which had originally proved difficult given the personnel inherited. Evidence suggests that it is currently taking shape.
After three games, United has significantly more control of the ball in the attacking third of the pitch than any other Premier League team. They have pressed more opponent passing sequences than anyone else in that zone.