Opinion: Revived Old Trafford is United's greatest 'weapon'

Thursday 12 January 2023 07:00

Tuesday night’s win over Charlton Athletic was United’s 12th win of the campaign at Old Trafford. “So what?” you might say.

Well, last season the Reds won just 13 games in M16. Just half of the 26 fixtures played at the Theatre of Dreams.
It created a dour, doom-laden feel among the Red Army – a sense that what could go wrong probably would do. The harrowing home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City summed the situation up, leaving United fans everywhere speechless and psychically wounded.
But they say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. 
And, sure enough, enter Erik ten Hag.
90 in 20: United v Charlton Video

90 in 20: United v Charlton

90 in 20 | Watch the extended highlights of our Carabao Cup quarter-final against Charlton...

The Dutchman has rebuilt confidence at Old Trafford, describing the stadium and its huge, ever-present, 70,000-plus crowd as a “weapon” that United can utilise to intimidate and shrivel opponents.
Not that the process has been entirely smooth.
Reds were buoyant as we took to the field for our opening game of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion in August.
Pre-season had produced some glorious, flowing football (against mostly modest opposition, admittedly) and the sun was out for the visit of the Seagulls, as United fans awaited the great Old Trafford reboot.
Brighton won 2-1. The game grew increasingly chaotic as we searched for an equaliser in the second half, and the crowd sensed that old, familiar, sinking feeling.
When we were battered 4-0 away at Brentford in match no.2, optimism drained away. Were the horrors of 2021/22 about to be repeated, despite the change in manager?
The answer – in our next home match, against quadruple nearlymen Liverpool – was emphatic. Ten Hag revamped the team and sent out a fired-up XI that seemed to have been given some very simple instructions. Run. Fight.
United won 2-1, and Old Trafford responded vociferously to a fast, committed and aggressive performance, exemplified by Lisandro Martinez’s dead-eyed determination and Marcus Rashford’s fearless running.
Soon after, league leaders Arsenal were dismantled 3-1 – still the Gunners’ only defeat in the competition, at the time of writing. 
There has been just one blip since: an undeserved 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad in September, amid an eerie atmosphere that followed news of the Queen's death.  
But bar that, and a frustrating 0-0 draw against Newcastle United (where the ball was in play for just 52 minutes, according to Opta), United have won every subsequent home game.
Ten Hag: We should have scored more Video

Ten Hag: We should have scored more

Erik ten Hag gives his thoughts on the 3-0 win over Charlton which has seen us through to the semi-finals...

It’s a magnificent turnaround: nine wins in a row since that stalemate against the Magpies, with seven clean sheets. Marcus Rashford has scored in eight consecutive games at the stadium he has known intimately since childhood.
Fans are turning up to Old Trafford expecting United to win again.
Not every performance has been perfect: it took an injury-time Scott McTominay winner to see off plucky Omonia, and David De Gea heroics to preserve our 1-0 lead over West Ham. Aston Villa went ahead twice in our Carabao Cup third-round tie here, before Alejandro Garnacho inspired a brilliant comeback.
But the 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur was arguably our most complete performance since the Rooney and Ronaldo era. At half-time, with the game still goalless despite our dominance, pessimistic fans could be heard muttering comments along the lines of: “We’ve missed our chance; we can’t possibly play as well in the second half.”
But sure enough, United came out with the same intensity, the same concentration, the same forward-thinking approach. Goals from Fred and Fernandes secured a richly deserved victory.
What was Erik like as a player? Video

What was Erik like as a player?

Ten Hag provides an insight into his playing days and coaching methods, in this chat with Premier League Productions...

Supporters are responding to the not-on-my-patch mentality of Martinez; the regal authority of Varane and Casemiro in defence and midfield; the tireless running and cool finishing of Rashford.
The latter’s song, ‘Rashford is Red’, continues to swell on each matchday. As do plenty of others. The confidence and conviction of the Red Army is slowly returning, buoyed by Ten Hag’s impact. The win over the Addicks in the League Cup mean he is now the fastest Manchester United manager to reach 20 victories in the club’s history.
It’s a happy, hopeful time to be a fan. All but the most red-eyed optimists would say the team has a long way to go if we're to compete for the two prizes that have defined our history – the Premier League and the European Cup/Champions League – but there is huge, burgeoning faith in Ten Hag.
Watch Ten Hag's press conference Video

Watch Ten Hag's press conference

Press conference | Ten Hag talks about Rashford, Pellistri, Dalot and more in his post-match media briefing...

That said, our Old Trafford run faces its biggest test yet on Saturday, as we welcome Pep Guardiola’s City for the second Manchester derby of 2022/23.
Not that you need reminding, but the Blues won our last encounter 6-3 at the Etihad in early October – one of only two defeats in our last 20 matches.
But United could hardly be in better shape ahead of what will be an excellent barometer of our progress under Ten Hag.
We’ve won just three of our last 14 against City here, but there is real belief that a developing Reds side can give our neighbours a proper examination this weekend.
And, whatever the result, Old Trafford’s long-term faith in this manager and his squad is not about to evaporate any time soon.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.