manchester united boss Erik ten hag is at risk of abandoning his long-established principles ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby. Ten Hag, a disciple of the possession-based Ajax style, is moulding a Red Devils team that is far dissimilar to the ones he has built at his former clubs.
The Dutchman and Pep Guardiola will face off in a coaching match where both have modified their methods to reflect Johan Cruyff’s principles. However, the match between United and rivals Manchester City will undoubtedly not be a contest for possession.
Back in July, Ten Hag pointed out that United’s style should depend on the profile of players available. He claimed to want to make his side the best in transition in world football, hinting at an approach that would focus on counter-attacking
Adapting your principles to your surroundings deserves praise, but that naturally comes with a level of scrutiny over how successful the appointment of a manager with a very specific idea of how football should be played has been
Ten Hag is building a United team far happier to cede the ball, knowing a counter-attacking situation could lead to one of Marcus Rashford, Antony or Rasmus Hojlund bursting forwards and creating a chance. In a sense, the 54-year-old can be accused of reverting to the style that his predecessor Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer adopted during his ill-fated tenure at Old Trafford.
That is not to say that Ten Hag will be a failure, too. Sir Alex Ferguson’s unrivalled success was built on counter-attacking football, albeit in a far different era. But it is evidence of an individual who has conceded that his own principles may not be suited to a club who identified him as their No 1 target a little over 12 months ago.
In a lengthy search for a new manager in the opening months of 2022, Mauricio Pochettino was snubbed in favour of Ten Hag. It is ironic that the Argentine’s style of football, played in particular by his Tottenham team who enjoyed some success, is much better suited to the counter-attacking football United currently play.
Ten Hag’s United have not looked like a side who care about retaining possession. Midfielders such as Casemiro, Sofyan Amrabat and Mason Mount, players who are far more effective off the ball than on it, make playing that way much easier