Erik ten Hag ended his time as Ajax manager on a high, leading them to their third successive Eredivisie ahead of his Manchester United switch this summer.
The Dutchman’s campaign in Holland and the Reds’ showing in the Premier League has been chalk and cheese this season. Ralf Rangnick has failed to steer United into a commanding position in what has proven to be a below-average battle for the top four.
As a result of United’ss defeat to Brighton last week and West Ham’s win — still with a game in hand — their hopes of the Europa League are under threat from the Hammers as the gap between the two clubs stands at just three points. David Moyes has the advantage with three games remaining as his team currently have a greater goal difference, boasting a 10-goal cushion ahead of United’s final game of the season against Crystal Palace.
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A squad rebuild looms for Ten Hag who will hope to restore confidence among the fans and players alike. But what attributes from his Ajax dynasty can he transfer over to revitalize United?
Throughout the slow, painful slide away from the Premier League title challenge, United’s attacking department has seen strikers come and go with little rewards since the explosive goalscoring from the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. For the 52-year-old to reinstall the fear into opposition defenders, he will need to replicate the attacking fluidity Ajax showcased in the Dutch capital.
This season saw the champions rank highest in terms of xG and most attempted shots. Their goalscoring exploits have taken them to within four of finding the back of the net 100 times, they can do that against Vitesse on Sunday.
Pressing from the front
Ten Hag will have his work cut out to try and bring the football that many will expect from his side. Rangnick found out during his early days in temporary charge that his traditional pressing style would not be possible at Old Trafford.
But Ten Hag will have a full pre-season to stamp his mark on United, namely a trait at Ajax that saw them top the table for their aggressive pressing statistics. United have lacked that ability to press from the front this season, which has contributed to their struggles against the likes of Wolves, Newcastle, Leicester and Everton — just a few of the clubs to take points off United.
Added importance on defending
United’s defensive fragility this season has been no secret. Pundits have been outspoken in their criticism of the United backline and the statistics back that up, with performances such as the 4-0 defeat at Brighton producing some damning data.
Ten Hag added defensive stability to Ajax, ensuring they faced the fewest shots, lowest number of xG against — highlighted by their record of just 17 goals conceded and 22 clean sheets. For the incoming United manager, shutting up shop at the back must be first on the to-do list.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.