Erik ten Hag watched his first game as Manchester United’s manager in waiting on 22 May 2022. The game at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace was United’s last game of a forgettable season – United’s worst-ever Premier League season.
Crystal Palace came out 1-0 winners on the day. Fast-forward to this season’s Palace-United clash, the result was a slightly more favourable 1-1.
On this occasion, the Red Devils were coming off a 9-game winning streak and enjoying the spoils of a Red revival.
Over the last eight months, the Ten Hag era has seen United bring in new personnel and rediscover an old sense of camaraderie and grit.
This season’s team and the class of ’22 are day and night for all the right reasons. However, there is still room for improvement.
The result was symptomatic of a few problems that still need solving despite Old Trafford’s resurgence, as pointed out by The Athletic’s Carl Anka (via The Athletic).
Anka tweeted, “#MUFC have got a lot better, but the 1-1 draw shows there’s work to be done.”
On the left is Manchester United's Starting XI when Erik Ten Hag visited Selhurst Park to watch the close of the 21-22 season.
On the right is the XI that drew last night.#MUFC have got a lot better, but the 1-1 draw shows there's work to be done. https://t.co/cXBq8h8Jf6 pic.twitter.com/mc4Hp90FLI
— Carl Anka (@Ankaman616) January 19, 2023
United drew first blood through a Christian Eriksen cross and Bruno Fernandes finish. United’s newest signee, Wout Weghorst, drew in defenders to allow Eriksen to pull back his cross.
Ten Hag’s United can be a little lacklustre and imagination-starved but still able to work goals.
However, according to Anka, United are still to find their feet when progressing the ball through the thirds.
During the initial 20 minutes of the Palace game, build-up play was regularly stopped by the opposition’s midfield. This forced United to adopt more wing play.
Casemiro has been one of United’s stand out stars this season.
The Brazilian plays a critical role in breaking down opposition attacks. He then seamlessly turns defence into attack.
The Red Devils roster doesn’t feature another player of his pedigree or with his qualities. This is why when Casemiro picked up his fifth yellow of the season for a challenge on Wilfred Zaha, it likely caused more worry than usual.
Casemiro is now ruled out of the crucial game against Arsenal on Sunday.
Why play Casemiro if you have top-spot Gunners to face days later? No other player can shore up the defence. It’s that simple.
What’s more, on this particular occasion, Casemiro lacked support, forcing him to do the dirty work of recovery frequently.
A ruthless edge
Anka also spoke about out the penalty not awarded to Manchester United in the 71st minute.
Ever the stoic figure, Ten Hag, dismissed the possible penalty saying, “You have to accept the decisions from VAR, from the referees.”
“I look in the mirror, I look to my team, I look to my own managing and coaching, and then I say invest more for the second goal, then you avoid situations that you are dependent on the refereeing, VAR, etc. That’s what we have to do.”
The United boss makes a valid point. A more convincing performance and a ruthless edge with more goals are what this United side need. It’s risky business to depend on a single goal to secure a win.
The Red Devils have made progress in leaps and bounds since 22 May 2022, but they are still a few steps away from being genuine title contenders.
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