While Erik ten Hag’s Old Trafford tenure is in its infancy, we’ve already seen his charges adopt a more aggressive press and familiar, 4-2-3-1 shape.
Despite this and an impressive pre-season tour of Australia, however, there’s clearly much more to come from ten Hag’s Reds, as the Dutchman sets about creating a more compact defensive shape and superior build-up play.
But what are the less obvious tactical changes that have been implemented by ten Hag, and can they help the Reds to land a coveted UCL place this term? Let’s find out!
The Use of Inverted Full Backs
In the pre-season games observed so far, it’s noticeable that ten Hag has looked to play with at least one inverted full back when in possession of the ball.
This is most evident on the right flank, where Portuguese Diego Dalot (who has had an excellent pre-season) regularly took up a more central position as the team looked to build from the back.
The aim here is for Dalot to provide an additional body in midfield as the team looks to build from the back, which is a key component of ten Hag’s philosophy. This affords players like Fred and Donny Van de Beek an extra option when looking to beat the opposition’s press, while Jadon Sancho (who has frequently been deployed on the right by ten Hag) provides natural width further forward.
As the attack progresses, we’ve regularly seen Dalot subsequently underlap Sancho, creating an attacking passing option in the channel while affording the England winger more space to pick out a cross or beat his man.
This tactic has been less evident on the left flank, where Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga have often played as inverted wingers. In this instance, players like Luke Shaw and Alex Telles have largely remained wide and overlapped their teammates, as ten Hag looks to create the optimal balance in his team.
Switching Play and Getting the Ball Forward Quicker
At Ajax, ten Hag became known for his high tempo and occasionally direct build up play, with the Dutchman not afraid to play longer balls in order to exploit the space behind the opposing defensive line.
He’s trying to implement this tactic at Old Trafford too, in order to exploit the pace and direct running of Rashford, Sancho and a seemingly rejuvenated Jadon Sancho.
In the game against Crystal Palace, for example, right-sided centre back Harry Maguire frequently looked to switch play early to the left flank, in an attempt to isolate Rashford against his opposing number.
This was a clear and obvious tactic, and one that highlighted ten Hag’s willingness to mix short and long passes in order to build attacks as quickly and as fluently as possible.
The Last Word – How Will United Fare in 2022/23?
As it stands, United are 5/4 to qualify for the Champions League in 2022/23, while you can leverage the current 1xBet sign-up offer to back this outcome and get the best value for money.
Certainly, there’s a different energy and sense of purpose around United since the arrival of ten Hag, while the side already look far better offensively and increasingly effective when pressing the opposition.
There’s still much work to be done from a defensive perspective and the ability of the team to defend set pieces, but for now, it’s clear that ten Hag has kick-started a revolution that could make United a force again in English football.