Opinion: Ten Hag has United fans smiling again

Thursday 21 July 2022 14:40

Every pre-season game - including Aston Villa (10:45 BST on Saturday) - will be shown live on MUTV, now available in our app and on ManUtd.com.

The most common phrase used by Manchester United fans during the last couple of weeks has been: "I'm not getting carried away."

We've had three consecutive pre-season wins and some fantastic goals under Erik ten Hag, and people are smiling again. They're looking forward to watching every match, after a very dispiriting 2021/22.

It's at this point that rival fans jump in and start screaming in our faces: "It's only pre-season!" "You're not going to win anything!" "Jurgen Klopp isn't worried!"

But they're missing the point. By miles.
No Manchester United fan that I know believes we are about to blast our way to the Premier League title.
In fact, I think expectations may be about as modest as they have ever been – certainly in the Premier League era. After finishing sixth last term, all but the most excitable fans are just hoping for steady progress and some obvious signs of improvement.
We could beat Aston Villa 6-0 in Perth on Saturday (23 July), in the fourth match of Tour 2022, and I don't think it would change people's thinking too much.
We've seen it all before.
When Louis van Gaal took over in the summer of 2014, we aced our way through pre-season, swatting aside Real Madrid, Internazionale, Liverpool and more. We won every game.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you, readers, that we lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City in our Premier League opener.

Ten days later, we got pumped 4-0 by Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup.
To put it bluntly, there is no substitute for competitive football.

Tour 2022: How to watch United v Villa


Get all the key pre-match details, including how both squads are shaping up.

But Manchester United fans know that we have been some way off the Premier League top two (despite Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal running rings round Fabinho and Mo Salah in Bangkok). We're all too aware that we did not qualify for the Champions League.
Does that mean we cannot smile, or celebrate a goal? Or enjoy watching our team play? Of course it doesn't.
And given the way last season went, a bit of fun and a few simple pleasures were badly needed. Ten Hag's team has delivered that already, and we're right to be relishing the United rollercoaster again.
90 in 20: United v Crystal Palace Video

90 in 20: United v Crystal Palace

Don't miss the extended highlights of our entertaining 3-1 win over the Eagles in Melbourne...

The Dutchman has been very direct after each of the pre-season games so far, explaining that he is not distracted by the nice goals and the pleasing scorelines. "There's still a lot of work to do," he deadpanned, after our 3-1 success over Crystal Palace in Melbourne.
But, yes, the signs are good.
The goals being scored are not mere flashes of spontaneous individual genius – they are mostly well-structured team moves put together by crisp passing and smart movement.
There were times last season when the player on the ball would look up and see nothing ahead of them. No options. Now, team-mates are running forward to support their colleagues, and making angles that open passing lanes up.
Yes, we're not going to find it as easy when the Premier League rolls around. Opponents will be fitter, more senior players will be available to them, there will be more pressure and scrutiny on everyone.
But the groundwork looks good, and the players seem to be enjoying both the hard work in training and the end product that it is delivering on the pitch.
Extended open training highlights: Perth Video

Extended open training highlights: Perth

Watch our full show from the WACA in Perth, as Ten Hag's squad train in front of fans and media...

Ultimately, it's a case of so far, so good for Ten Hag and the lads. Let's see where we are when the Brighton & Hove Albion game kicks off and another challenging season begins.
But don't let the serious stuff ahead stop you from enjoying what's been a really bright pre-season. We deserve to smile, to enjoy watching our team, and to feel a bit of optimism, after a really flat and uninspiring 12 months.
Who knows where Ten Hag's time in charge will lead to? Right now, I'm not thinking that far down the line. All I'm bothered about is that United are back and playing some really decent football; that we're all cheerful and eagerly checking the fixtures to find out when we're next in action.
When all's said and done, isn't that buzz what football is really all about?

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