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Sell the captain? The first five things Erik ten Hag will need to address at Manchester United



Sell the captain? The first five things Erik ten Hag will need to address at Manchester United

Manchester United have announced that Erik ten Hag will take over at the club come the end of the season, signing a three-year deal with the club with the option of a further year.

The Ajax boss will take over a club in crisis, with a squad suiting a myriad of styles and plenty who seemingly don’t want to be there, or who won’t be there come the summer.

And, with the club currently struggling to make Europa League football next season, and Roy Keane claiming that ‘it’s not the club I played for’ after their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool, there is plenty of work to be done.

So, where does Ten Hag need to start, and where should his priorities lie?

1. Sort his relationship with Ralf Rangnick

When Ralf Rangnick’s arrival to take interim charge of the club was announced, a key footnote surrounded his future beyond the end of the season.

“Ralf and the club have agreed that he will continue in a consultancy role for a further two years,” Manchester United revealed in their announcement, though they never went into any great detail as to what that role would entail exactly.

As per the Athletic, ten Hag ‘is not expecting to have total control of club affairs’, but will need to be supported in the transfer market with smart signings rather than big names. For this, he and Rangnick will need to be on the same page, a likelihood given that the pair lean towards similar styles of football, but not a given.

Should there be a power struggle in Manchester come the end of the season, the club need to ensure that they back their newest horse as he looks to recover the club from its darkest times since the 1980s.

2. Figure out the future of his forward line

Manchester United are in a mess all over the pitch, but perhaps their backwards thinking is clearest in the forward roles.

Edinson Cavani is expected to leave this summer when his contract ends, while Anthony Martial was sent on loan to Sevilla in January, where he is yet to register a La Liga goal under Julien Lopetegui.

Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford has been shown the cold shoulder to the point where he is now reportedly considering a move away, with the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes both chosen to play as a striker over the Englishman.

This has left Cristiano Ronaldo as their only reliable source of goals, a 37-year-old who pines for Champions League football and, despite his goalscoring returns, doesn’t really suit the style of play that Manchester United are likely to try and play under ten Hag.

A new striker or two seem to be a necessity this summer, but they need to be more than just big-name players. Beyond scoring goals, they need to fit the style that the club is looking to implement, and if those currently at the club do not, the club may have to be willing to accept losses and move on.

Such are the consequences of a complete rebuild at a big club.

3. Rebuilding the relationship with the fanbase

One thing that went when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was shown the Old Trafford exit door in October was any semblance of relationship between the club and the fans.

The club legend in charge of the club was in no way immune to criticism, but was viewed through rose-tinted glasses as a man who had created history at the club, and who only wanted to see his former side succeed.

That is now gone. Pogba and Harry Maguire are two who have felt the ire of the fans the most, but there is very little love lost between the current squad and the fanbase inside the stadiums and across the globe. That needs to change.

And it isn’t just results that will change that. It is desire, commitment, and performance that will go a long way to healing the wound long before results and trophies do. In short, the club needs to find the identity that it has been lacking for over a decade now. ten Hag’s biggest task may be trying to rediscover that.

4. Instil his philosophy in the side

The sort of football that ten Hag will want to play, and the style that he ends up playing in the early days of his reign could be very different.

As per the Athletic, “ten Hag likes a high-pressing possession game, with emphasis on wide players”, but United are short on wide players, and they have been caught out time and time again trying to press high this season.

Even with the 10 players that Rangnick has suggested could join the Red Devils this summer, there are much deeper problems with those likely to remain, meaning that tweaks to the finished article will need to be made as he continues squad turnover.

Just how effective ten Hag’s problem solving is will ultimately decide whether he warrants keeping his job, but the task is undeniably a daunting one.

5. Solve the Harry Maguire conundrum

Manchester United’s captain, and their second most-expensive signing ever behind Pogba, Maguire has been woeful this season however you dress it up.

The Englishman has featured in 28 of the 33 games that the Red Devils have played so far this season, a key part of a defence that has now conceded more goals than relegation-threatened Burnley.

His performances for United and the national team are like night and day, and the high line that the Red Devils are planning to use will only continue to widen that gap.

However, whether Manchester United would be willing to take what would be a massive loss on their club captain and offload him is another matter, especially with the centre-back position looking very light at the moment. ten Hag needs to find a way to either play to his strengths, or jettison the Englishman.

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Premier League table

# Team MP D P
1 Liverpool FC 32 61 76
2 Manchester City 31 52 74
3 Chelsea FC 30 41 62
4 Tottenham Hotspur 32 18 57
5 Arsenal FC 31 8 54
6 Manchester United 33 4 54
7 West Ham United 33 9 52
8 Wolverhampton Wanderers 32 5 49
9 Leicester City 30 -4 40
10 Brighton & Hove Albion 32 -8 40
11 Brentford FC 33 -8 39
12 Southampton FC 32 -14 39
13 Crystal Palace 31 3 37
14 Newcastle United 32 -19 37
15 Aston Villa 31 -4 36
16 Leeds United 32 -30 33
17 Everton FC 30 -19 28
18 Burnley FC 31 -19 25
19 Watford FC 32 -32 22
20 Norwich City 32 -44 21
Player Team Goals
Salah, Mohamed Liverpool FC 22
Son, Heung Min Tottenham Hotspur 17
Ronaldo, Cristiano Manchester United 15
Jota, Diogo Liverpool FC 15
Mane, Sadio Liverpool FC 14
Kane, Harry Tottenham Hotspur 12
Toney, Ivan Brentford FC 12
Mahrez, Riyad Manchester City 11
De Bruyne, Kevin Manchester City 11
Zaha, Wilfried Crystal Palace 11
Mount, Mason Chelsea FC 10
Dennis, Emmanuel Watford FC 10
Saka, Bukayo Arsenal FC 10
Pukki, Teemu Norwich City 10
Sterling, Raheem Manchester City 10
Raphinha Leeds United 10
Vardy, Jamie Leicester City 10
Smith-Rowe, Emile Arsenal FC 10
Bowen, Jarrod West Ham United 9
Fernandes, Bruno Manchester United 9

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Man City handed double boost ahead of Aston Villa




Man City handed double boost ahead of Aston Villa


Premier League-chasing Manchester City have, on Thursday, been afforded an altogether timely double boost on the personnel front.

Pep Guardiola’s troops are of course primed to return to action in 72 hours’ time.

In the knowledge that a three-point haul will see them assured of back-to-back titles in the English top-flight, the Sky Blues are set to welcome Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa to the Etihad, for a final day clash.

And, after stuttering to a 2-2 stalemate with West Ham last time out, City, this time round, will likely be considerably more confident in keeping their upcoming opponents at bay.

This comes owing to a pair of timely returns to fitness in the club’s first-team ranks.

As confirmed in a post across the Citizens’ social media platforms on Thursday, John Stones and Kyle Walker, both of whom were forced to sit out at the London Stadium owing to injury, have returned to training alongside the rest of Pep Guardiola’s squad.

The two defenders, in turn, are expected to be available for selection this coming Sunday.

Wolves test

Turning attentions towards the other protagonist in the Premier League’s title race, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will welcome Wolverhampton Wanderer to Anfield this weekend, primed to take advantage of any potential slip-up on Man City’s part.

The Reds, amid an ongoing pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple, currently sit just a point adrift of the table-topping Sky Blues.

This comes after Klopp and co, despite a whole raft of changes, emerged from a meeting with Southampton with a hard-fought 2-1 win on Tuesday night.


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Robert Lewandowski’s agent drops major hint over Barcelona switch




Robert Lewandowski’s agent drops major hint over Barcelona switch


Word stemming from the Spanish media over the course of the last 24 hours points towards Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski inching ever closer to a move to Barcelona.

Speculation surrounding the future of Polish international Lewandowski has of course been rampant in the media for some time now.

This comes with the 33-year-old, fresh off another scintillating campaign in front of goal, eyeing a move away from Bavaria ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

Speaking ahead of the club’s final Bundesliga outing of the season last weekend, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic confirmed as much, albeit whilst adding that Lewandowski is expected to see out the remaining year on his current contract:

To this point, the outfit most frequently tipped as a summer landing spot for Bayern’s star man have of course been Barcelona.

This comes with Xavi and co. understood to be highly appreciative of Lewandowski’s goalscoring talents, and evidently of the opinion that heading into the new season with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the club’s first-choice centre-forward is out of the question.

And, as alluded to above, if the latest rumours emanating from Spain are anything to go by, then the Blaugrana appear primed to imminently land their man.

As per transfer journalist Gerard Romero, Pini Zahavi, Lewandowski’s representative, was in Barcelona on Wednesday.

Not only that, but, during his trip, the super agent paid a visit to the club’s official store, to allegedly purchase no fewer than ten Barca jerseys, all with Lewandowski’s name emblazoned across the back.

Blues keen

Interestingly, word of Barcelona’s swoop for ‘Lewa’ inching ever closer comes fresh on the back of the 33-year-old being linked with a move to another of European football’s heavyweights just days ago.

The outfit in question? Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.


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Jordan Ayew escapes punishment in reckless challenge against Everton




Why Jordan Ayew was not sent off for ‘reckless’ challenge vs Everton

Iconic Premier League club Everton are in a fight for their lives in the top flight of English football coming into the final weekend of action in the 2021-22 season, and at the time of writing are hosting Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace at Goodison Park with anything less than a win set to subject the Toffees to a final day of action on Sunday that could consign them to relegation.

But Everton fans will undoubtedly feel aggrieved after Eagles forward Jordan Ayew escaped serious punishment after a reckless challenge on academy graduate Anthony Gordon right next to both dugouts during the first half of play.

Ayew was seen to hack down Gordon with a scissor motion while contesting possession and made no attempt to win the ball, with players on both sides losing their cool in the resulting scrum.

It could not have come at a worse time for Everton given the gravity of the evening, and though the Toffees have fought back to lead 3-2 at the time of writing after Jean-Philippe Mateta and the aforementioned Ayew gave the Eagles a two-goal lead ahead of Michael Keane, Richarlison, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin bringing matters into Everton’s hands, the fact that the Premier League came out in response to state that the tackle was “reckless” but not worthy of a red card once against calls into question the FA and the inconsistent refereeing standards in the league.

If Ayew was correctly sent off given the video and picture evidence on hand, matters could well be different regardless of the fact that Everton have done incredibly well to fight back when it has mattered most.

With both teams now in stoppage time, it’s clear that the Toffees found fuel through injustice with their Premier League lives at stake.

This article was edited by
Conor Laird.

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