Rival fans may agree. Manchester United fans may disagree. But the fact is Sunday’s performance at Old Trafford was not something we haven’t seen before. So, should Manchester United fans be as excited as they are? Or is this just another false dawn?
The Red Devils have done extremely well after their opening two fixtures, winning the following four on the bounce including games against Liverpool and Arsenal. However, the manner of their victories was not unfamiliar with the Old Trafford faithful. In fact, just last season United fans hounded out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager that set up the team very similarly to the way Ten Hag has been deploying his players, particularly against Liverpool and Arsenal.
During his tenure as United boss, OGS set up his team to sit deep, absorb pressure and play on the counter attack. This was particularly effective against big-six teams as OGS had the second-highest win rate of United managers post-Fergie, bearing in mind that he had to face the likes of Pep, Klopp and arguably two of the greatest teams in Premier League history.
Louis Van Gaal speaking to BBC in 2019 said, ““The coach after me [Mourinho] changed to park-the-bus tactics and played on the counter. Now there is another coach who parks the bus and plays on the counter.” This statement from Van Gaal reiterated United’s reliance on the counter-attack even after he was sacked as a result of playing a brand of football that was not as pragmatic as United fans were used to.
Sandwiched between their first victory against Liverpool and their result against Arsenal this past weekend, United faced trips to Southampton and Leicester City. The two sides were both lingering towards the bottom half of the table, with the latter being firmly rooted to the 20th position as of this weekend.
Despite picking up the wins, 1-0 in both games, United did not look convincing. The Red Devils conceded more shots against both teams, while only retaining greater possession in the Southampton game, albeit marginal.
This is a pattern that, once again, was constantly recurring during Ole’s tenure. United looked better against top six teams as they could sit back and hit on the counter. But against teams where United are expected to dominate possession and the opposition sits deep, the Red Devils struggle to overcome the low block.
Sunday’s showing against Arsenal would be considered an “Ole Masterclass” as the display identically exemplified the systematic performance the Norwegian would have strived for. This is why the heightened excitement as a result of the weekend’s clash could be premature as we’ve seen these performances before. And we know how it ended with that manager.