Home » Erik ten Hag’s bizarre tactical decision stifling Manchester United’s attack

Erik ten Hag’s bizarre tactical decision stifling Manchester United’s attack

by David O'Neill


Against Real Sociedad, Erik ten Hag opted to push Bruno Fernandes out to the right flank in order to accommodate Donny van de Beek in his Manchester United line-up, and he repeated the experiment against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup.

It seems an odd move, playing arguably your best player out of position just to benefit a midfielder badly out of form.

But that is exactly what Ten Hag is doing and may well do again for United’s trip to Craven Cottage on Sunday.

In fairness, the Red Devils have struggled with injuries in attacking positions. Both Antony and Jadon Sancho have been unavailable and either would have been nailed on to start on the right but for injury and illness respectively.

With a lack of cover in offensive positions, Ten Hag has perhaps been forced to get a little creative with his selections.

There are other options, however, and though they may lack experience it is questionable that Van de Beek continues to play in such a vital role just to keep those options out of the starting eleven.

Anthony Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho may both be raw, but their levels of enthusiasm give United far more intensity than Van de Beek does, both in and out of possession.

Were either young winger deployed on the right-hand side from the start, United could at least have counted on their energy and their pace in behind.

The other benefit, of course, would be getting Bruno Fernandes back into his favoured number ten position, where he can get on the ball more often.

United have often relied on the Portugal star’s passing ability since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon back in 2020.

But shunted out onto the right flank, his teammates are struggling to find him and as a result, United are struggling to create chances from settled possession.

All of that is exacerbated by the fact that his replacement in the number ten role has serious issues in making himself available to his teammates and frequently struggles to affect games.

When Van de Beek does find space, his instinct is often to pass it straight back or find a safe five-yarder.

That may look pretty at times, but the Dutchman’s complete lack of initiative hampers United’s attack, and the man they look to in order to unlock defences is simply too far from the action to be effective.

It may be that this odd experiment does not recur after the Qatar World Cup, when United’s senior wingers are back available for selection.

Indeed, Ten Hag made the necessary changes after the hour mark against Villa and reaped the rewards of having two dynamic wingers stretching the play, with Fernandes back in his favoured position.

If we do see the Portugal star back out wide to accommodate Donny van de Beek, Ten Hag will need to work out a way of getting Bruno Fernandes on the ball more often, while the former Ajax midfielder will need to drastically improve his performance levels and playmaking ability.

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