Manchester United fans could not have wished for a better start to the Erik ten Hag era at Old Trafford after the Red Devils blitzed bitter rivals, Liverpool, in a 4-0 pre-season friendly win.
Goals from Jadon Sancho (12'), Fred (30'), and Anthony Martial (33') rounded off the first-half blitz and put the result beyond question before youngster Facundo Pellistri added the fourth on 76-minutes.
Though Liverpool controlled the stat column come full-time, United kicked off their pre-season with a bang that showed what could be expected under Ten Hag this season as the Red Devils hope to immediately propel themselves back into the top-four conversation and beyond.
1. United expectedly molded into a pressing outfit
One of the biggest criticisms for the last few Premier League seasons at Manchester United has been the distinct lack of a modern press-based system.
None of José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, or Ralf Rangnick were fully capable of instilling one of the key tactical assets in the modern game during their tenures, and United suffered greatly due to their deficiency in this area. But that looks set to change under Erik ten Hag.
Heavily lauded for the way his Ajax side so often frustrated their opponents with an organized-high press, particularly during their fantastic run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2018-19 (the furthest they got in the competition since 1996-97), that same tactical cornerstone already looks set to have taken hold after Ten Hag has begun to sink his teeth into the United squad.
If this can truly be rectified, United could be a real force to be reckoned with in 2022-23.
2. Ten Hag's 4-2-3-1 deployment
Whether in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 (both utilize near-identical principles on a tactical level anyway), it was hardly a surprise to see Ten Hag deploy the Red Devils in his customary preference on the pitch.
The Dutch tactician turned to this shape on the pitch in all 48-matches the last term when at the helm at AFC Ajax both at home and abroad, and most impressively, garnering 141-goals and allowing just thirty-three at the other end while averaging 2.38 points/match in the process.
Now, no one can expect that same lopsided return in the Premier League given the nature of the competition at hand, but it does bode well that Ten Hag will stick to his principles in order to hopefully manufacture improvement at Old Trafford his term, which undoubtedly is the catalyst for why he has targeted the players that he has this transfer window.
3. Marcus Rashford back on the left for Man United
England international Marcus Rashford had a 2021-22 Premier League season to forget at Man United after the Manchester-native and former academy graduate was unsuccessfully utilized through the center forward channel for the bulk of the campaign.
Frustratingly for Rashford, it was on the left side of the attack that he garnered the reputation that once saw him labeled as possibly the brightest young talent of his generation, and his performances in 2019-20 that saw him bag 17 goals and add a further 9 assists out on the left flank stood as a testament to how good of a wide forward he could be.
That deployment option could be set for rebirth under Ten Hag after Rashford was found on the left today against Liverpool with Anthony Martial utilized as a number 9. If United fans are hoping for any player in the club's ranks to come alive in the upcoming season, surely it's the local lad himself.
4. Jadon Sancho's potential revitalization
In what was one of the most anticipated transfer deals last summer, England international starlet Jadon Sancho returned to Manchester after a stunning stint with German giants Borussia Dortmund before optioning to go red over blue despite graduating from Manchester City's academy.
Unfortunately for Sancho, and countless United fans, the London-native had a torrid time on his return home, scoring just 3-goals and adding 3-assists across 38-appearances in all competitions. Such data was in stark contrast to the numbers he produced in the Ruhr valley for three-and-a-half seasons after making his first-team debut in 2017-18, to the tune of 50-goals and 64-assists in 135-appearances which included an otherworldly 2019-20 campaign in the Bundesliga where he hit 17-goals and 17-assists.
Despite his struggles last season, the knack that Ten Hag has for getting the absolute maximum out of his wide players both in their contributions in the goal-scoring column as well as their freedom to create when on the ball, Sancho could be set for a breakout season for United. His goal today against Liverpool certainly will be a boost to his confidence.
5. Is there a place for Anthony Martial?
Though Man United boss Erik ten Hag has been adamant that Portuguese great and Red Devils star striker Cristiano Ronaldo is not for sale this summer, Ronaldo has yet to return to training this summer as he hopes to force a move away from the club after making public his desire to search for greener pastures this summer.
Thus far, United has delivered without the mercurial forward. Though it may have only been a pre-season win, a 4-0 thrashing of Liverpool - in which both Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho got on the scoresheet - has many still thinking that the club is best without Ronaldo this season.
And should the Portuguese remain frozen out or sold on before the window slams shut, the door could well be open for Martial to stake a claim as the new leading number 9 at the club given the fact that United has struggled to recruit a new main striker after missing out on both Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez to Manchester City and Liverpool respectively.
Given his pace, tidiness on the ball, and athleticism that is fit for a high-pressing system, a new lease on life could be just around the corner for the Frenchman.
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