The ultimate Manchester United season preview: Ignore Ronaldo - if Ten Hag gets this right he'll be the new king of Old Trafford

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Erik ten Hag Man Utd 2022-23Getty Images

It is the latest Manchester United reboot – and forgive us if you think you’ve heard this one before. It can feel like Groundhog Day at Old Trafford as an ever-fading force desperately tries to restore its former glories.

Now it is the turn of Erik ten Hag to revive United’s fortunes – and the Dutchman faces familiar challenges.

He inherited an unwieldy and imbalanced squad.

His star player wants out.

And he’s struggling to bring in the targets he sees as vital to turning this ship around.

So what will be different this time? The truth is, no-one knows.

In 18 months to two-years’ time, it could be another man in the United hot-seat, charged with the responsibility of guiding them back to the summit of English football.

But in Ten Hag they have gone with a man they believe can challenge Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. A manager who plays football the right way and is a proven winner with Ajax.

He will give them a defined way of playing to lift the crowds and bring the club into the modern era. Ultimately, they hope he is the man to bring the trophies back to Old Trafford.

It is a risk. He does not know English football. He is up against four titans of the game in Guardiola, Klopp, Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel.

Meanwhile, Arsenal continue to back Mikel Arteta with the money to restore their own fortunes.

United could have gone with the Premier League-proven Mauricio Pochettino – but were convinced Ten Hag was the man to end nine years of misery.

Only time will tell.

  • Frenkie de Jong Getty Images

    Squad Goals

    It is the eve of the start of United's season and they are still a long way from getting their summer business done.

    That is a remarkable situation – but one that Ten Hag’s predecessors will know all too well.

    United’s transfer strategy remains an issue, despite numerous reforms and a genuine confidence from the club’s hierarchy that they were months ahead of schedule back in June.

    Regardless of what happens between now and the close of the window, they have jeopardised the start of a crucial campaign and left their manager short-handed.

    Ten Hag wants Frenkie de Jong above all targets. He specifically wants the Netherlands international but the position of holding midfield is even more important, with the new manager believing a top-class addition in that area is fundamental to the football he wants to play.

    If United miss out on De Jong now, it would be a major embarrassment – and also mean they have wasted crucial time trying to get the deal done.

    If he does arrive – which they are still banking on – they can at least say they waited for the right man. Even still – it has taken too long.

    Ten Hag also wants to strengthen in attack. Ajax are trying to price Antony out of a move but injury to Anthony Martial underlines just how light United are up front.

    Cristiano Ronaldo also wants out, so the cutting edge is a pressing issue.

    At least Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez have been added.

    Elsewhere, Ten Hag’s plans to offload more than 10 players this summer is going slowly.

    Even after the departures of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Dean Henderson, Alex Telles and Andreas Pereira, there are still a host of names who are surplus to requirements.

  • Erik ten Hag Manchester United 2022-23Getty

    Hopes

    On the one hand, Ten Hag is in the luxurious position of knowing things surely can’t be worse than last season. On the other, the competition for top four is arguably fiercer than ever, with United far from certain of a return to the Champions League.

    That has to be the minimum requirement – but for a club that hasn’t won a trophy in five years, some silverware would be very welcome.

    Crucially, United fans want to see the team heading in the right direction.

    That doesn’t just mean the odd trophy or two, but without the football to match – as in the cases of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. And it doesn’t mean a dose of nostalgia and a few memorable nights – as in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    United need to see real, tangible progress on the pitch – and they need to see the type of football that suggests they can genuinely challenge Manchester City and Liverpool in the future.

    That is what Ten Hag was brought in to do.

    If he can lead them back into the top four with a brand of modern, attacking football, he will meet expectations in his first season.

    If he can add a trophy as well, he will have United fans believing again.

  • Jose Mourinho Man UtdGetty Images

    Fears

    The primary fear, put simply, is that this will be yet another false dawn.

    Ten Hag says the right things. He has a record for attractive, exciting football that wins trophies.

    There have been clear signs of what he is trying to do in just a few weeks at the club. But much bigger names than him have been swallowed up by Old Trafford.

    United have tried just about everything.

    David Moyes was Premier League-proven – but proved a spectacular failure.

    Van Gaal had won the lot and managed the very biggest clubs in Barcelona and Bayern Munich – but his brand of football was a major turn-off.

    Mourinho was the guaranteed winner. He won – but still didn’t last.

    And Solskjaer was a return to United’s roots. He lifted spirits – but won nothing.

    There are no guarantees Ten Hag will fare any better.

    It is another step into the unknown for a club that is running out of ideas.

    It is impossible not to fear the worst – but there is every reason to be optimistic.

  • Jadon Sancho Manchester United 2022Getty

    The Hero

    It is a cliché – but Jadon Sancho looks like a new signing.

    It was a bit of a false start for the winger in his first season, which saw him have to cope with the disruption of Solskjaer’s sacking and then the failed interim reign of Ralf Rangnick.

    So it is little wonder he failed to produce the sort of show-stealing displays that were commonplace at Borussia Dortmund.

    But he is the type of player to light up Old Trafford with his mazy runs, goals and assists.

    Sancho was one of the most wanted talents in Europe when United landed him last year – and there have already been signs of him benefiting from a new manager in Ten Hag.

    United fans are looking for a new hero – and he could be primed to take on that mantle.

    If he does, he might just earn himself an England recall in time for the World Cup.

  • Avram Joel Glazer Manchester United

    The Villain

    With talk of fresh protests ahead of the Brighton game, the Glazers will, once again, come under fire if United’s woes continue.

    With Ed Woodward gone, new chief executive, Richard Arnold, can also expect grief – particularly if some big signings are not delivered before the end of the transfer window.

    He already had to head off protests outside his home when meeting disgruntled fans in his local pub. He talked big about the funds being available to meet Ten Hag’s demands – but actions speak louder than words.

    Yet it all comes down to hated owners, the Glazers, and the massive decline they have overseen.

    The Americans may never be loved by United supporters – but they can go a long way to appeasing them by finally delivering a successful team.

  • Zidane Iqbal Manchester United 2022-23Getty Images

    NXGN Player to Watch

    Zidane Iqbal has excited fans in pre-season and looks like a proper talent, along with Charlie Savage.

    The midfielder has the natural confidence to show for the ball in tight situations – and the ability to wriggle out of danger.

    Ten Hag clearly likes him – giving him opportunities on tour – but it remains to be seen how much senior game-time he will get.

    But he has already shown enough to suggest he is one to watch – whether it is at senior level or lower down as he continues to develop.

  • Anthony Martial Man Utd 2022-23Getty Images

    Last Chance Saloon

    There is more than one contender for this title – especially if Ten Hag fails to offload all of those who are considered surplus to requirements.

    But it looks like Anthony Martial will get yet another shot after United’s struggles to strengthen in attack.

    The Frenchman looked like a goner after going on loan to Sevilla last season, but seems re-energised since returning.

    United were ready to listen to offers – but Ronaldo’s attempts to leave, along with the failure to beat Liverpool to Darwin Nunez, has left Ten Hag light up front.

    Martial has responded well to the new manager and was outstanding during the tours of Thailand and Australia.

    An injury means he will miss the start of the season – and who knows how that will impact his flow – but the signs have been very encouraging.

  • Man Utd fans Glazer protestGetty Images

    How are the fans feeling?

    The optimism that accompanied the 4-0 win against Liverpool in Thailand has been eroded by the failure to bring in more signings.

    It feels like the same old story. Fans have watched on as too many summers have been allowed to drift without bringing in top targets.

    The De Jong pursuit has been draining – as well as Ronaldo’s attempts to escape to a Champions League club.

    Fans can see the glaring holes in Ten Hag’s squad and fear he is going to be left short like so many of his predecessors.

    While there is real hope he can have a positive effect on the club – the fear is that he will be let down by the Glazers.

    Fans are realistic enough to know they are lightyears behind City and Liverpool. They just want to believe the club will try to get back to a position where they can genuinely challenge for the biggest honours in the future.