Manchester United hosted Leeds United at Old Trafford in the first of two games to be played within the space of a week between the two old rivals.
With various players ruled out with injuries and Casemiro suspended after being red-carded in the win against Crystal Palace, Ten Hag faced a selection dilemma.
The United boss started Fred and Marcel Sabitzer in the pivot with Bruno Fernandes ahead of them.
With Antony not available, Ten Hag turned to Alejandro Garnacho to start on the left with Marcus Rashford shifted to the right of attack.
Wout Weghorst led the line.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Leeds United.
Casemiro’s absence proves why he is United’s most important player
There was a lot of speculation heading into the game as to how Ten Hag and the team would fair without the expertise of Casemiro.
If there was doubting Casemiro’s importance and vital nature in the team, the game against Leeds proved why he is a vital cog in Ten Hag’s machine.
In the opening 45 minutes, the Red Devils failed to establish any semblance of control that has highlighted their displays under Ten Hag.
The match was extremely open-ended with both teams catching the other in dangerous transition moments.
The midfield trio of Fred, Sabitzer and Fernandes was easily penetrated and Leeds’ players barely had to break a sweat to break deep into United territory and wreak havoc on the back four.
The erratic and chaotic nature of the game especially in the first half meant that Dalot and Luke Shaw were limited in their forward ventures.
Fernandes also had to play extremely deep so as to help out defensively – something the playmaker has not had to do whenever Casemiro is on the pitch.
The defence lacked an out-ball that Casemiro provides, which greatly aided Leeds in their efforts to peg the Red Devils back. In fact, Leeds’s opening goal came through Dalot lacking a sufficient outlet.
The Portuguese passed it to an under-pressure Fernandes who was easily dispossessed. Gnonto was allowed to cut in unopposed before beating David de Gea on his near post with a brilliant finish.
Leeds’s second goal also came from United being unable to clear their lines and easily giving the ball away in midfield.
The physicality, grit and aggression that Casemiro usually brings in the middle of the park were missing and United suffered for it.
Weghorst and Garnacho extremely poor
United’s attackers were extremely below par against Leeds.
Weghorst barely had any impact and was non-influential in proceedings. He was missing in action and failed to register any meaningful contributions during the time he was on the pitch.
Weghorst was barely noticeable and it’s no wonder he was replaced just shy of the hour mark.
Equally poor was Garnacho. The Argentine seemed to be off-sync with the rest of his teammates as evidenced by the number of times he gave the ball away.
Most of United’s advances seemed to break down with the 19-year-old who was also paltry in the execution of his defensive responsibilities.
Garnacho also lacked a clinical edge in front of goal and missed at least two clear-cut opportunities that would have given United an avenue back into the game.
Like Weghorst, Garnacho was also taken off and it’s upon the pair being substituted for Facundo Pellistri and Jadon Sancho that the team became more fluid and threatening.
Sancho and Pellistri the difference
Sancho and Pellistri’s introduction sparked United’s sensational fightback.
Sancho and Pellistri were placed on the left and right flanks respectively and had an instant impact.
A determined and brilliant piece of play from Pellistri on the right side ensured the ball was handed over to Dalot. Dalot delivered a sublime cross inside the box to find Rashford who rose highest to head the ball into the back of the net.
Just eight minutes later, fine work from Sancho inside the Leeds box saw the attacker produce a great finish to bring United level.
Beyond the goal, Sancho did well and constantly took on his man whenever the chance arose, as did Pellistri. That United grabbed a point is largely down to the two substitutes.