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Erik ten Hag’s battle to change Manchester United’s “predictable” ways

by David O'Neill

Manchester United’s game against Crystal Palace today may see the Red Devils do something that would have been unthinkable over the last half a decade.

They might focus their attacks down the right.

United fans watching the Melbourne Victory game would be forgiven they were watching a completely different team altogether.

And that wouldn’t be just because of the intensity of their pressing or the quality on show, but because the side has had a left-sided bias for about as long as anyone can remember.

Erik ten Hag has spoken about his desire to hurt opponents from every direction:

“We have a good left side. But we always [want to] have a threat on the right as we did against Liverpool. That was good to see.”

And the new boss wants his team to be able to mix up their attack to be harder to defend against.

“You want to have weapons. When it is only on one side it is predictable.”

Indeed, Ten Hag has identified that the team needs to improve their play in areas besides the left half-space, where previously everyone was seemingly dead set on playing.

“We want to develop over two sides. It has to be on the right and the middle. We have to come from everywhere.”

Over the last few years, opposition managers have known that Man United have naturally wanted to narrow their play into the inside left channel.

Knowing that has allowed them to set their defences up to cover one small, specific area, congesting the play and frustrating United’s route to goal when in settled possession.

While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and at times Jose Mourinho were able to use quick transitions to mask this problem, when United have not been afforded counter attacking opportunities, they have routinely found themselves stuck when trying to break down settled defences.

The solution, as the new manager realises, is to stretch teams with width and a variety of focus, and a Manchester United side comfortable in using either flank to create chances is a very different prospect to what we have witnessed in recent years.

As United look to enact revenge on Crystal Palace, they will need to continue to use multiple “weapons” to undo Patrick Vieira’s plans.

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