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Uncertainty clouds Erik ten Hag’s pre-season at Manchester United | Manchester United

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Ten Hag plagued by uncertainty over Ronaldo and De Jong

A fortnight of watching new United manager Erik ten Hag lead training has revealed a smart man whose priority is coaching. The Dutchman’s emerging side play in a fluid style and he has a sharp manner with the media. These are the absolute basic materials for any manager to succeed at a club that remains the country’s record holder but became the laughing stock last season. United’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in Perth on Saturday night was the first failure to win in four tour matches in Thailand and Australia, encounters in which United plundered 13 goals while conceding three times with a defense still suspicious. As Ten Hag knows, it’s the phoney war. The serious stuff starts when Brighton arrive at Old Trafford on August 7 ahead of a trip to Brentford and a visit to Liverpool: two wins and a draw from those three games would be a good start. Still, Ten Hag still has to work with Cristiano Ronaldo due to a family issue and his No.1 transfer target Frenkie de Jong is keen to stay at Barcelona. But Ten Hag’s job is to handle those headaches.

Is Martial flattering to cheat again?

Anthony Martial was a success on the pitch, scoring three times, and a lively presence who surprised club insiders with a zest for life he doesn’t always show. After last year’s lost season – half of which was an unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla – Martial was a favorite to sell this summer, but Ronaldo’s desire to leave means Ten Hag needs the Frenchman and has closed the door on his departure. If the manager has little choice, a question can always be asked about his faith in the erratic Martial: will Ten Hag’s confidence be justified or the belief that he can succeed where others have failed come back to haunt him? Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Ralf Rangnick have come to distrust Martial. Ten Hag makes a big call.

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Erik ten Hag has closed the door on Anthony Martial’s departure due to uncertainty over Ronaldo’s future. Photography: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images

De Gea remains unreliable in goal

“I have to look back,” was Ten Hag’s pithy response when asked if David de Gea was guilty of Villa’s stoppage-time equalizer after he beat a corner. It was. If the manager was protecting his player, consider this: Ten Hag talks about requiring ‘internal’ competition for players but as he allowed Dean Henderson to join Nottingham Forest on loan, De Gea only has one only rival for the goalkeeper shirt: Tom Heaton who is 36 and has played 22 minutes for United. De Gea is a superb stopper but almost non-existent when a high ball is thrown into the box. . After Solskjær dropped him in favor of Henderson, De Gea’s answer was last year’s effort: a return to the sparkling best. There is also a question about the 31-year-old’s ability to play with his feet as required by Ten Hag. De Gea says that’s not a problem, but his three touches outside the box in the 4-0 win over Liverpool were above the Premier League average of 2.4 last season. Can he thrive under Ten Hag?

Building trust is vital

Despite the results and the sparkling attacking play, there remains an element of closure and hope around a group of players who in the past have tended to crumble under pressure. Witness Ten Hag’s description of his defense as a ‘card game’ when he conceded an ill-fated opener against Melbourne Victory, with the manager admitting the disaster of last season continues to weigh on his players. De Gea says he senses a ‘new energy’ among the team and the team have shown themselves capable of implementing Ten Hag’s relentless and pressing style of play. The million dollar question, however, is whether they can keep it going for a long season that includes a month-long break for the World Cup. Ten Hag was asked in Perth if he would take seven points from the first three games – the implication of a draw against Liverpool would be a good result. He gave a stock answer about wanting to win every game, but the concern is that hiding at home from their arch-rivals could seriously damage the attempt to rebuild his players’ fragile psyches.

Harry Maguire in action for Manchester United on the pre-season tour
Erik ten Hag says Harry Maguire needs to prove himself at Manchester United. Photography: Will Russell/Getty Images

Maguire’s trials and tribulations may not be over

Would Harry Maguire have lasted as an indifferent entertainer for three seasons at Manchester City or Liverpool? Certainly not. Ten Hag is doing all he can to support the defender, retaining him as captain and saying he ‘thinks’ Maguire is a first choice. But he also argued that Maguire needed to prove himself. The truth is, if Ten Hag wants to reinvigorate himself, he’ll either have to coax Maguire to a higher level or treat him as a liability. The centre-back’s problem isn’t just his questionable positioning and lack of pace, but also his lack of presence – which makes Ten Hag’s decision to keep him as captain intriguing. Does he sense that there is a hidden fire in Maguire that can be lit?

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