Opinion: Ten Hag will sort teething issues

Tuesday 15 August 2023 13:04


I think that type of reaction sums up the feeling of most Reds after Monday night's season-opening victory over Wolves at Old Trafford.
United gasped over the finish line, thanks to Raphael Varane's late-ish goal and some fairly tolerant VAR officiating, but that wasn’t exactly the curtain-raising statement we were all hoping for, was it?
The pre-match buzz was well and truly there, given Ten Hag’s impressive first season and the encouragement of some positive work in the transfer market during the summer. But it’s fair to say Erik’s new-look team did not quite click on 2023/24’s first big night.
But let’s not get too gloomy here. After all, does anyone remember how last season started? Ultimately, the Reds are off the mark with three points. As I tucked into my post-match fish and chips from Macari’s, that’s all I was really thinking about.
90 in 20: United v Wolves Video

90 in 20: United v Wolves

90 in 20 | Set aside 20 minutes for the extended highlights from United's first game of the new term, against Wolves...

The next morning, once you’ve had time to reflect, and you start absorbing the match reports and all the many, many, many hot takes, you do start wondering about the long-term stuff, admittedly. Will the more progressive midfield three of Casemiro-Mount-Bruno work out? Would Rashford be better served on the left of a front three? Did the lack of overlapping runs on the left hinder Garnacho’s performance?
But, personally, I’ll leave that to the manager. Ten Hag showed a fair bit of flair for pragmatic thinking last season, and he’s done okay so far, hasn’t he?
When the dust settles, you also realise it’s more than a year since United last lost a Premier League game at Old Trafford. With the increase in results comes more expectation (quite rightly – we’re the 20-times champions of England, and don’t you forget it), but I won’t lose too much sleep over tactical issues. It’s the start of the season, and most teams are still in a state of flux.
Wolves’ performance proved that pretty well. In the days leading up to the game, we’d been led to believe that the side United were about to face was some ragtag bunch that was doomed to inevitable relegation. Instead, we saw a well-organised, positive and determined group, keen to prove all the pre-match predictors wrong.
The Black Country club have always been tricky opponents for United since their promotion back to the top flight in 2018, and a change in manager just days before a fixture always adds an element of mystique and vagueness.

How would Ten Hag and his staff prepare? There were no pre-season games under O’Neil to analyse – even their likely starting XI would have been a tricky thing to establish. That doesn’t excuse United giving the ball away 81 times, obviously, but it made the game slightly awkward to prepare, I’m sure.
Ten Hag: We fought for it Video

Ten Hag: We fought for it

Erik ten Hag has his say on our fighting spirit, the squad and Andre Onana’s debut after the win over Wolves…

Ten Hag’s XI didn’t deliver the quality we saw at times last season – in the home win over Spurs, for example – but we did clearly see the spirit in the squad. Let’s be honest, we started with a whimper against Brighton and Brentford last term, but here United dug out three points when the opponent probably deserved at least a draw.
The final 10 minutes were exhausting for those of us in the stands. (Referee Simon Hooper should be fined by the British Heart Foundation for heading towards the touchline during that late VAR check.) But on the pitch, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw rolled up their sleeves and put in some quality blocks and got us over the line.

Onana’s dicey moment at the end has garnered the majority of the headlines, but the Cameroonian was a picture of authority for much of the preceding 90-plus minutes. United fans loved seeing his confident passing – one long diagonal to Garnacho lingers in the memory – and his eagerness to come off his line to relieve pressure.
Bruno Fernandes endured one of his most forgettable displays in the shirt – annoying, I'm sure, given this was his first competitive match as club captain – but in typical fashion, he still sliced the Wolves defence open with a delicious chip which led to our goal.

That’s Fernandes. No matter how frustrated he’s feeling, or how poorly he’s playing, he always keeps going, and always keeps trying things that could break the game open. That’s real bravery.
Why Onana was Man of the Match v Wolves Video

Why Onana was Man of the Match v Wolves

Player highlights | Onana was in the thick of the action against Wolves, showing off great footwork and shot-stopping...

But it was a mixed night; there’s no getting away from it. We’ll need to be much more tidy in possession, and less porous in midfield, against Spurs on Saturday. Despite the departure of Harry Kane, it’s unlikely Son, Maddison and co will spurn the number of chances Wolves did on Monday, especially in front of a defiant north London crowd.
We’ll see how Erik reconfigures things in the capital but, until then, we can console ourselves that United are already three points better off than last season.

Tougher challenges await, but the Reds will almost certainly play better, too.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.