Erik ten Hag’s ‘rules to win’ for Manchester United

“Rules” is the word Erik ten Hag uses to describe Manchester United.

In Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the Premier League, the Dutchman lamented his players’ candidacy, saying: “If they do their job 100 per cent, with passion and desire, following the rules and the principles of football, then we won this game.”

In the match schedules for the Carabao Cup meeting with the same opposition at Old Trafford last night, Ten Hag wrote: “Whoever gets selected will have to stick to the rules to win and the plan we set out beforehand.”

Illness or injury to Jadon Sancho, Antony and Cristiano Ronaldo limited the attacking options available, but seven changes over the weekend saw Ten Hag reveal his intentions for English football’s second-tier cup competition.

United’s ultimate ambition is to finish in the top four again this season, but on top of any possible trophy or return from the Champions League, there is new manager Ten Hag’s requirement that his side follow his “rules”.

The restoration of Anthony Martial made it easier for United’s other forward players to adhere to these rules.

The Frenchman has missed 14 of 20 games so far this season due to three injuries (hamstring, Achilles and back strain), but remains an integral part of the squad.

When they have Martial at centre-forward, United attempt the dynamic move seen on this summer’s pre-season tour of Australia.

Ten Hag’s Ajax side from 2018-19 was the model for those friendlies, and although United went into half-time on Thursday with twice as many offside flags (six) as shots on goal, they were more consistent in attack than during Sunday’s loss at Birmingham. .

Martial’s holdup play and positioning against the opposition’s back line of defense gave the other forwards a focal point to work with, and his passing means he can serve as an enabler for others when he drops deeper.

Villa’s attempts to build from behind under new manager Unai Emery were effective at the weekend, but here Martial and others were diligent in their pressure, helping to keep the pressure on and control the territories. A 0-0 half-time draw illustrated that not everything was perfect in front of goal, but Martial’s presence made it easier for United to attack and defend than in the league game, where they fell 2-1 down.

United would need to do both after a blunder in the second half.

A momentary pause by Fred and Martial for what they perceived to be a handball, allowing Villa to mount a counter-attack, was finished off by Ollie Watkins for the first equalizing goal in the 48th minute.

United might have collapsed, but Ten Hag’s rules of victory encompass both resilience and intensity.

On 52 seconds, Victor Lindelof found Bruno Fernandes with a long ball down the right and the Portugal international squared for Martial to level.

United would again have to bounce back after a Diogo Dalot own goal in the 61st minute, but a triple substitution of Christian Eriksen, Alejandro Garnacho and Anthony Elanga for Donny van de Beek, Fred and Martial corrected the course. Eriksen helped United’s ball progression problems in midfield, while the two attacking youngsters would inject extra pace down the left and defensive security down the right.

From the low place the team was at the end of last season, a little confidence is growing.

In the 67th minute, Marcus Rashford headed a ball in the final third for Eriksen to chase down, then seized the opportunity as the midfielder was dispossessed. Rashford not only showed the intensity to chase down the fumble, but also the cold-mindedness to prevent the fall of Tyrone Mings and score on his eventual shot.

United Kingdom

That second equalizing goal galvanized a United side that not only benefited from Fernandes’ restoration to No. 10 following Van de Beek’s departure, but also from Garnacho’s ambition. The teenager’s willingness to drive with the ball and engage defenders will please Ten Hag, as will the way he exploited a sloppy Villa attempt to build from behind.

The ball from the Argentine to Fernandes led to United’s third goal in the 78th minute and his cross to Scott McTominay in the fourth in stoppage time.

On Sunday, Ten Hag called United’s repeated hasty attempts to pass the ball to Ronaldo “stupid”. Four days later, when they faced Villa again (a rotation), his team turned a potential loss into a win by playing with their team’s strength. attackers

“On defense, the rules aren’t ‘but’ or ‘if,’ I just asked them to do it,” Ten Hag said. “In offensive positions they are ‘principles’, so there is more freedom.

“The closer you get to your opponent’s goal, the more freedom comes. And while he attacks… the really important thing is the rest of the defense. That balance, of defensive rest, again, is one hundred percent discipline. If not, they kill you, like on Sunday”.

Half-time defence, which refers to the defensive structure a team adopts when in possession of the ball, has been a long-standing problem for United in recent seasons. Ten Hag is slowly building this squad into one that understands the need to attack and defend as a collective.

As the first half of 2022-23 wraps up with next weekend’s final games before a break of more than a month for the World Cup, a Ten Hag best XI is joining. Fitness permitting, the forward four of Martial, Rashford, Fernandes and Antony seem more adept at following the Dutchman’s principles. Casemiro and Lisandro Martínez will be an integral part of maintaining those rules.

When the Carabao Cup resumes in those seven days between the World Cup final and Christmas, a round of 16 tie at home to reigning championship leaders Burnley awaits.

Ten Hag may be reluctant to talk about what trophies he is prioritizing, but he has again reiterated the need for collective intensity, endurance and discipline.

(Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

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