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Ten Hag's reasons: Why Man Utd manager can't afford Palace repeat no matter injury list

COMMENT: There's reasons. And then there's excuses. And in football, particularly in management, it can be a fine line between the two. A line that Erik ten Hag finds himself battling to navigate...

Regulars of this column will know we're in Ten Hag's corner at Manchester United. And as it stands today, we still believe he should be granted the third and final year of his current contract to prove himself worthy of a longer deal.

But as we say, there's reasons and then there's excuses. And the aftermath of Monday night's meltdown at Selhurst Park sounded much more like the latter.

Yes, Ten Hag was forced to go into the game with a makeshift back four. Yes, he was forced to fill his bench with kids. And yes, he was forced to play several players out of position. But as much as the club's injury crisis is reason for the team's inconsistency, that is no excuse for such a collapse as we saw at Crystal Palace. Swept away. Steamrolled. United offered next-to-no-resistance against a good, in-form Palace team - but certainly not one that should be four goals better than any United starting XI.

And is this where Ten Hag needs to be careful. The injuries. The constant changes. That can be reason for the inconsistency in performance. The lack of a fluid style of play. But it is no excuse for a result as we saw at Palace. This effectively was what Ten Hag has been hired for; what he is paid to do. Even when resources are low. When things aren't falling your way. It's up to the manager to find a combination to win the game - or at least give themselves as good a chance as they can to find a result. That didn't happen on Monday night and no matter the length of the injury list, there is no excuse conceding four goals as United did.

A result to decide Ten Hag's fate? It shouldn't be. And it does appear the higher ups are coming around to recognising the issues Ten Hag has faced this season. As we've stated here - and as Ten Hag also said on Friday - the success of last season shouldn't be ignored. There are reasons for this term's problems. But such patience can only run for so long.

"I did my job and in the first year I would say it was a good formation," said the Dutchman ahead of Sunday's clash with Arsenal. "We played to our levels, maybe we over-performed.

"In this one we haven't and I know why, but we are still in an FA Cup final and that is a great achievement."

Sir Jim Ratcliffe still has his doubts about Ten Hag. But the manager now has some allies in his corner. Jason Wilcox, the club's new technical director, and Sir Ian Brailsford are coming around to accepting the bad hand Ten Hag has been dealt this season.

And that opinion is also growing for those connected to the club. Even Gary Neville is now stating Ten Hag should be given his final year. While spoke to both Gary Pallister and Rene Meulensteen in the wake of the Palace meltdown and neither man pushed for Ten Hag's removal.

"I was very lucky, I played alongside Steve Bruce, Dennis Irwin and Paul Parker for a large part," Pallister told us when discussing Ten Hag's injury woes. "That back four pretty much stayed the same. We very rarely got injured. Just like the back four at Arsenal with Adams, Bould, Keown, Dixon and Winterburn.

"You get used to each other; you understand each other. You're in sync together. You're aware of weaknesses and strengths. You can almost react off knowing how they're going to react. It builds up that confidence in your back four and your defence that you can keep playing sheets. United have not had that all season."

Football men, United men, those who have been in Ten Hag's shoes, they are cutting the manager some slack. As he says himself, "I think there are many people who see the problems and they are patient."

Indeed, as last week's ring around proved, Ten Hag's right. The majority connected to the club don't want to see him sacked. As Meulensteen told us, "Every successful club is built on two main pillars; stability and continuity."

Which, to be fair, is what Ratcliffe is seeking. It's why those stories about Steve McClaren being offered a longer deal - no matter how it ends with Ten Hag - emerged over the weekend. Which is in the same vein as United's interest in Gary O'Neil. The football board identifying the Wolves manager as a potential 10-year training ground coach. A "pillar", as Meulensteen puts it, to be established.

Ten Hag has that opportunity as manager. Beyond all else, United need that "stability and continuity". Ten Hag staying offers that. But it'll only work with the right results. The injuries are a reason, but cannot be an excuse. Ten Hag cannot afford another night like Monday in South London.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie


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