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Erik ten Hag: How Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson Are Inspiring Resurgence at Manchester United
- It might still be early days, but Erik ten Hag has already proven to be the right person for the United job
- His first trophy on February 26th and impressive run before that did a lot to turn the naysayers into believers
- Ten Hag seems to borrow heavily from Jose Mourinho's and Alex Ferguson's book of substitution making
That Erik ten Hag has already endeared himself to Manchester United fans is no longer in question. Ten Hag recorded two of his biggest wins as United boss in the space of four days to send out a strong statement of intent - Manchester United are back!
They didn't just win; they did so with swagger. First, it was Robert Lewandowski's Barcelona that was put to the sword before an extremely impressive Newcastle side were downed at Wembley.
With the Wembley win, came United's first trophy in six years. In ten Hag's mind, that's already done and over with - he wants the next one and the next one. No wonder his players trained on Monday immediately after the Carabao win.
At face value, his discipline and strong hand should be credited for the upturn in fortunes at Old Trafford. Senior players like Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw have admitted that it is either ten Hag's way or no other way. Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford are living examples.
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Substitutions as a weapon
On a closer look, ten Hag has mastered his tactical approaches in the same vein as his man management. He might not have the famous Carlo Ancelotti eyebrow raise or the Marcelo Bielsa squat, but the former Ajax manager has so far shown he is up for the challenge.
As aptly captured by United legend Gary Neville, ten Hag has incorporated the use of timely substitutes as a weapon in his game. Neville explains that Sir Alex Ferguson used substitutes to inject momentum into his game while Jose Mourinho, in his charismatic self, used them to derail the opponents' momentum.
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Ten Hag has mastered both.
Example 1: With United leading at Wembley, ten Hag needed to disrupt Newcastle's most formidable source of attacks - Allan Saint-Maximin. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has perfected the act of slide tackles that fans often joke that he does nothing else.
He was thrown in right after the break with Diogo Dalot's early yellow card, making the decision easier. Wan-Bissaka did his job effectively, that Eddie Howe had to withdraw Saint-Maximin.
Weghorst as number 10
Example 2: Ten Hag's decision to deploy Wout Weghorst as a number 10 in the middle of a game vs Leeds United remains to be one of his most impressive tactical switches. Having drawn four days earlier at Old Trafford, United struggled once again to break down a resilient Michael Skubala side.
When Alejandro Garnacho stripped down, ready to come on, many assumed it would be Weghorst making way only for Jadon Sancho's number to go up. Garnacho occupied Marcus Rashford's left wing, pushing the in-form forward to a number 9 position, with Weghorst now operating as a number 10.
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The result was almost instant. As reported earlier by Sports Brief, the American midfield partnership of Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams ran strings around a Casemiro-less midfield, leaving Fernandes to rely on Leeds' mistakes.
In the 79th minute, Weghorst dropped deep and took McKennie with him. Adams was left man-marking Fernandes as Ayling marked Garnacho. This allowed Shaw to advance forward with no one spotting his run. Marcel Sabitzer floated a terrific ball to the full-back, who in turn delivered a tantalizing cross met by an unmarked Rashford to make it.
Five minutes later, Weghorst double-teamed McKennie with Fred and robbed him of the ball. He then played a one-time cross into Garnacho's path, who used his pace to see off Robin Koch and slot the ball past Meslier.
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Another distinct example is how he hooked Weghorst off at halftime during the second leg of the Barcelona game or how he dropped one attacker to play a double pivot of Casemiro and Fred against Manchester City at Old Trafford.
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Most managers often rely on their plan A's. If plan A fails, it is up to individual players to lift the team up. But ten Hag's in-game management has been brilliant so far, the same to what Ferguson and Mourinho perfected during their prime.
He knows when to make a substitute and who to bring on to address what he has discovered is missing. Nineteen of his United's goals have come from the bench, the most of any side in Europe's top-five leagues.
Sorry to say, but England fans will be saying if only Gareth Southgate had the same acumen.