Marcus Rashford is down in the dumps, the muddle in midfield, Andre Onana’s false start – and a crippling injury list… Man United’s issues that Erik ten Hag MUST turn around
- A last-gasp winner from Scott McTominay salvaged three points for Man United
- Erik ten Hag will know that there are still plenty of issues that he needs to fix
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Manchester United’s remarkable comeback against Brentford has lifted the mood around Old Trafford after Scott McTominay’s two injury-time goals averted a third home defeat in a week and sent Erik ten Hag and his players into the international break on a high.
But Ten Hag won’t be fooled into thinking it has solved United’s early-season problems with his team lying 10th in the Premier League table and bottom of Group A in the Champions League following back-to-back defeats.
There is plenty for the Dutchman to ponder before United return to action at Sheffield United a week on Saturday.
Mail Sport takes a look at some of the key issues.
Erik ten Hag has plenty still to fix as Manchester United look to turn their ailing season around
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Rashford down in the dumps
Last season’s 30-goal top scorer has epitomised the drop-off in United so far this term, finding the net just once in his first 10 games. The 25-year-old has also been substituted in each of the last three matches.
Rashford’s negative body language has been reminiscent of his struggles in the 2021-22 season which followed another high-scoring campaign.
He is still trying to establish a strike partnership with Rasmus Hojlund despite setting up a goal for United’s new £72million signing against Galatasaray last week.
Rashford has also been criticised at different times for being too greedy in possession or picking the wrong option when he does decide to pass.
With Antony back in action and Alejandro Garnacho pushing for a start, Rashford’s place could come under threat if he doesn’t improve.
The England international signed a new £300,000-a-week contract in the summer on the back of his best season yet, and Ten Hag has every right to expect more of him.
Marcus Rashford has cut a frustrated figure so far this season and knows he needs to improve
Casemiro and the midfield muddle
The stats about United’s start to the season – six defeats in 11 matches, 19 goals conceded, nine scored in eight Premier League games – tell their own story, but one fact doesn’t quite ring true.
Casemiro’s four goals so far, making him the club’s unlikely leading scorer, would suggest that the Brazilian is in good form again. Not so.
The 31-year-old has looked a shadow of his old self in the early part of the campaign.
He was sent off against Galatasaray and then taken off at half-time against Brentford four days later after giving the ball away in the build-up to Mathias Jensen’s opening goal.
Ten Hag said afterwards that he brought on Christian Eriksen for the Dane’s creativity and passing range, and there is no getting away from Casemiro’s loss of form.
While United’s awful defensive record has draw attention to the back-four and new goalkeeper Andre Onana, the team have also suffered from a lack of midfield protection usually provided by Casemiro.
Casemiro has scored four goals so far this season but it would be wrong to suggest good form
The blame can’t just be pinned on him, though, with Ten Hag playing a number of different players alongside Casemiro in defensive midfield including Mason Mount, Sofyan Amrabat, Eriksen and Hannibal Mejbri.
Amrabat was signed to play there but has been re-deployed as an emergency left back in recent games, and teenager Kobbie Mainoo showed great promise in the summer before he was injured.
McTominay is another option, of course, but his most effective contribution so far this season has come as a super-sub up front against Brentford.
It always felt like Ten Hag would need time to work out the best combinations among his players – not least integrating Mount into a team that already had Bruno Fernandes and Eriksen – but no-one expected Casemiro to dip like he has.
Mounting problems for £60m man
When United went into the summer with a limited transfer budget, the one obvious target was a centre-forward. A new goalkeeper also became a necessity once Ten Hag decided that David de Gea’s Old Trafford career had come to an end.
Yet of the three principal signings who made up the majority of United’s £180m summer spend, Hojlund was the last through the door.
First was Mount and the biggest question mark over his £60m move from Chelsea was where he would best fit in. After 11 games, it feels like we are no nearer to finding the answer.
There still seems plenty of question marks around how best to fit Mason Mount into the team
Mount has missed five of those games due to injury and his only contribution of note so far was an assist for Casemiro in the Carabao Cup win over Crystal Palace. The 24-year-old, who also had a steady if unspectacular pre-season, has been substituted in each of his six games.
Mount’s arrival has given Ten Hag a selection dilemma, and not always a nice one either.
If he plays him deep alongside Casemiro, then United lose midfield stability. If he plays him further forward at No 10, it means pushing Fernandes out to the right wing – handy when Antony and Jadon Sancho have not been available, but not a long-term solution.
A player of Mount’s dynamism and creativity should be an asset to any team, but at the moment it feels as though United’s £60m could have been better spent elsewhere in the team.
Shaky Onana’s false start
It’s been a torrid start to life in English football for Onana following his £47.2m move from Inter Milan to replace De Gea.
In the Cameroonian’s defence, it should be pointed out that De Gea also had a shaky start in 2011, and Onana has been impacted more than anyone by the lack of a settled back-four. United are giving up more chances and, it follows, more goals.
But the 27-year-old was guilty of an awful error in the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, for which he publicly apologised, and should have done more to keep out Jensen’s goal for Brentford.
Most worrying has been Onana’s apparent dip in confidence. A goalkeeper signed for his ability with the ball at his feet to play out from the back has resorted to knocking it long more often than not.
Andre Onana’s start to life in English football has been nothing short of a disastrous one
It was Onana’s poor pass to Casemiro that led to the Brazilian picking up his second yellow card against Galatasaray, and he was no more convincing when going short to Jonny Evans against Brentford.
Ironically for a keeper renowned for venturing outside his box, he has been faulted for staying too close to his goal line on several occasions that United have conceded.
Onana’s two late saves against Brentford paved the way for McTominay’s heroics, and he will draw confidence from that. Now United need the former Ajax man to put in some solid performances to help get him back on track.
No defence against injuries
The injury situation has been a key factor in United’s poor start to the season with no fewer than 16 players sidelined at any given time since the summer. Some of them – notably Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane – have been put out of action for a second time.
Ten Hag’s defence has been particularly badly hit with Martinez, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia lost to long-term injuries. Varane and Sergio Reguilon have also been injured, meaning that Ten Hag has yet to play his first-choice back-four and Amrabat has had to fill in at left back.
United hope the situation will ease during the international break with Varane and Reguilon expected to be back in the squad at Bramall Lane, and the other players two weeks closer to returning.
Mainoo, who was injured in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid in Las Vegas, was close to playing in a behind-closed-doors game against Barnsley on Tuesday so he should be back soon too.
Sergio Reguilon is pushing to return once league action resumes after the international break
All together now
The feeling among Ten Hag’s squad is that some of the unity fostered in the Dutchman’s first season at Old Trafford has been lost, due in part to the damaging and distracting circumstances surrounding the absences of Sancho and Antony in the early part of the season.
There has been a collective effort to try and rebuild some of that solidarity, and Ten Hag has done his bit by organising a barbecue for the players and their families at Carrington.
United certainly looked like a strong group after McTominay’s last-gasp winner against Brentford, and that has to be used as a springboard to a revival. Bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United are next up followed by FC Copenhagen.
Ten Hag must hope for an improvement by the time Manchester City arrive at Old Trafford at the end of the month.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
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