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Selection, tactics & historic Man Utd low: Why it's time for Ten Hag to be questioned

COMMENT: The last time Manchester United lost four of their opening seven games Mike Duxbury was playing in midfield and Mike Phelan at centre-half...

Oh, and that fourth defeat of season 1989/90? That was the famous (or is that infamous?) 5-1 rout by Manchester City at Maine Road. The City of Paul Lake, David White, Ian Brightwell and Steve Redmond. It should be recalled, City had their own 'Class of '92' before anyone had heard of David Beckham or Ryan Giggs.

Cycle on 34 years and what Erik ten Hag is now battling is similar to the situation Sir Alex Ferguson was trying to navigate all those years ago. New players. A new system. And an injury crisis. And just like back then, the manager is being questioned - and for this column, rightly so.

Three days after dominating Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup, United didn't lay a glove on the Eagles for Saturday's 1-0 defeat. The hosts carved out just the one inside-the-box chance over the course of 90 minutes. And even that was an old up-and-under from Marcus Rashford for Rasmus Hojlund to chase and try to batter home. United appeared disjointed. Bereft of ideas. Of creativity. Even energy. They played like strangers and were always kept at arm's length by Roy Hodgson's well-organised back four.

It isn't panic stations just yet. Though you can now write off a title challenge. Indeed, if you're a United fan and can recognise the similarities between now and '89, well the bad news is that season ended with a 13th place finish. It won't be as drastic as that, but it's difficult to see Ten Hag pulling things together from here and threatening City and Arsenal.

Injuries. The need to bed down players. There are reasons for this dismal start. Perhaps even excuses. But the manager does need to be questioned. His tactics. His team selection. And his market approach. Things aren't working and Ten Hag is in part responsible.

We went went into Saturday with Ten Hag singing the praises of his kids. Hannibal Mejbri impressed in that Cup win. Alejandro Garnacho was even better. They were the two driving forces of United's 3-0 triumph. They were in form. Momentum was with them. Even their manager was talking both up.

But come Saturday, they were relegated to the bench. Mejbri didn't even get on the pitch. But when Garnacho was introduced inside the final 15 minutes, suddenly, finally, there was a bit snap and intensity about the home team. Why Ten Hag didn't stand by both players only he can say, but after talking about the drive and energy Mejbri had brought to the win at Burnley. And also the way he spoke so positively about Garnacho following his goalscoring performance. It really should've been easier to go with both youngsters from the start on Saturday than pull them back out of the XI. On form, neither player deserved to be dropped.

Further, it must be said, Ten Hag isn't doing Sofyan Amrabat any favours playing him at left-back. The Morocco international was brought to Old Trafford to not only play in midfield, but to dominate it. Aggression. Intensity... intimidation. This is what Amrabat is known for. But in his first week as a United player, Ten Hag is sticking him at left-back? Of course the player will take the job. But he's almost being set up to fail.

And all-the-while there's an easy, obvious solution to this left-back crisis Ten Hag is trying to manage. Victor Lindelof can play at fullback. Diogo Dalot is comfortable on both sides too. And with Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans available to partner a fit-again Raphael Varane, there was no reason to have Amrabat run a gauntlet as he had to on Saturday.

Ten Hag will want his new signing to settle quickly. To get the fans onside. His teammates too. How Amrabat does that being played so, so out of position only the manager can say. But he's not making it easy for his new man - nor himself.

Further forward, well, it's only going to get worse. The groans will grow louder. The tension will increase. And that self-belief will shrink. As this column has stated, asking a 20 year-old Rasmus Hojlund to carry a Manchester United attack is simply beyond the kid. Indeed it's unfair. Ten Hag must have known this. John Murtough, United's technical director, also. It's not working. But it shouldn't be. From Copenhagen. To Salzburg. To Atalanta. Nothing in Hojlund's record suggests he's a 20 goals-a-season striker. He may develop into one, sure. But it's not going to happen instantly. Certainly not at the highest, most ruthless level in the club game.

So it's mistakes. It's personalities. It's choices. Nothing is falling Ten Hag's way. Much of which is of his own doing. But as we say, it's not time to press any panic button. Ten Hag has enough in the bank to be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, going back to that comparison game, as much as the league finish for '89/90 was a disaster, that season ended with an FA Cup triumph. A first trophy for Ferguson and the launch of the club's greatest era.

Like Ferguson, Ten Hag can turn this around. But it needs to happen soon.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie


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