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Return To Glory : Manchester United

Started on 8 November 2022 by OohAhCantona
Latest Reply on 10 June 2023 by lukec4
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After a year that saw two famous clubs change hands, for very different reasons, the fans of Manchester United finally had their way. Somewhat encouraged by the swift exit of Newcastle’s much hated owner Mike Ashley, a non-stop stream of protests by United fans appears to have brought the Glazer family to a similar conclusion. Spurred on by the failure to buy Chelsea, Sir Jim Ratcliffe quickly turned his ownership group toward landing Manchester United for what is being reported as a record-breaking £4.7B.

A familiar sight inside and outside of Old Trafford.

Fans have embraced a new owner, almost specifically because he is not one of the Glazers, the fact that Ratcliffe was born in Manchester and considers himself a life-long fan has created a swell of hope for the future. The mood around the fans has improved at least temporarily, but things can sour very quickly with expectations sky-high for the club. The biggest issue is with how Ratcliffe will go about rebuilding the squad and more importantly the club. United are woefully behind on updates across all sectors of the club, with fans torn on the state of Old Trafford, but the most immediate concern is the roster. Newly minted manager Erik ten Hag spent the entire summer, some of it on the Glazer’s dime, preaching patience and a long term approach to rebuilding the squad. It isn’t ideal to switch owners in the middle of a transfer window, especially with a new manager, but initial reports put ownership and ten Hag on the same page.

UK’s wealthiest man ended up spending more than the £4.2B Chelsea went for, paying the price for missing out on the London club, but it wouldn’t be his first club. Unlike the unflattering reports on Todd Boehly, Ratcliffe’s experience owning Ligue 1 side OGC Nice and Swiss side Lausanne will allow for a smoother transition and greater understanding of how the football economy works. There is also some hope that having access and greater information on Ligue 1 will help United as well, developing a relationship with a club that can help develop young players could be invaluable as they look to rebuild the academy. It’s going to be a long road back to the top, clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool have a substantial head start with Chelsea, Arsenal, and even Spurs pulling ahead of the Red Devils.
A solid introduction to your story, and a welcomed sight for Manchester United fans with the Glazer family departing! Best of luck mate :D
In every save I've done for at least 5 years, Manchester United always end up as a mid-table side when they're AI controlled. So, er... don't do that!!!

A transfer window that belied statements about a new direction for the club seemed to be business as usual with some hints at change. Just about everything appeared to go wrong for United from hemorrhaging players for free, trying to pay a ton of money for a player that doesn’t want to join the club, paying an eye watering sum for a 30-year-old, apparently failing to learn from the Sancho Fiasco, and getting rejected by a number of key targets. Within that mess, in a ‘ends justify the means’ argument, Erik ten Hag may have walked away with the upgrades he desperately needs to start turning the team around.

Things seemed to start going south almost as soon as the window opened, the signing of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong was being billed as the perfect solution to United’s problems. The only problem was… everything. While Barcelona was rumored to have accepted a fee, de Jong was unwilling to leave Barcelona due to a rather enormous sum of money they promised to pay him in exchange for lowering his salary during the pandemic. United didn’t want to cover the money he was owed, de Jong didn’t even want to join United, and Barcelona were in the midst of a financial crisis while simultaneously spending millions on new players. While that situation dragged on ten Hag target Jurriën Timber, who seemed like the perfect signing at the perfect price, opted to remain at Ajax and sent the club looking elsewhere to fix their central defense. As other clubs, notably Liverpool and Manchester City, were signing players, United was spinning their wheels. The signing of Dutch LB Tyrell Malacia marked ten Hag’s first win in the market, and while his profile and fee weren’t headline news it did signal an important shift in transfer tactics. Adding a 22-year-old player on the verge of becoming a first team regular, and for only £13.5M, is exactly the kind of signing United need to make more of. Adding Malacia put some weight behind the talk of rebuilding the squad for the long term, but that quickly evaporated as the old United strategy emerged in a stunning outlay on three players.

The signing of Lisandro Martínez, Timber’s CB partner at Ajax, for £51.6M (more than the reported price for Timber) looked like a high price to pay for a player who is a perfect fit for ten Hag’s system while carrying some questions about his suitability for the Premier League. At only 5’-10” in height there were immediate concerns that he wouldn’t be able to handle the physicality of the league, along with additional vulnerability in the air. All of those concerns would be pushed to the back when United agreed to sign Casemiro from Real Madrid for an astonishing fee, things seemed to be going full speed backwards at Old Trafford. Yes, United desperately need a DM with the short passing skills and defensive guile of Casemiro, but spending £63.6M on a player on the wrong side of 30 seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to failing with de Jong.

Near the end of the window ten Hag managed to find the conclusion to a saga that could have easily been Sancho-Dortmund 2.0. United had been circling Ajax’s star RW Antony since the beginning of the window, but everything was clogged up by the ill-fated pursuit of de Jong. Once United managed to walk away from that mess they got into a protracted bidding process with Ajax that was reminiscent of what they went through with Borussia Dortmund with Sancho. Some internal back and forth, with Antony pushing to make the move, eventually ended in United’s second most expensive signing of all time. The £85.5M doled out for the Brazilian would also top the summer market, a move that signaled the club’s old ways of throwing money around weren’t dead yet.

Amid all of the cash flying around, nearly £215M of it, ten Hag was able to recruit former Spurs star Christian Eriksen on a free after a tumultuous period of his career. After nearly dying at Euro 2020 and making a comeback with Brentford, the Danish superstar looks like the kind of creative midfield presence ten Hag needs more than ever. Failing to bring in de Jong was a real blow to his midfield plans, but the additions of Eriksen and Casemiro should be a substantial improvement over the infamous McFred. The final piece before the window shut was agreeing to a loan with Newcastle for their now backup GK Martin Dúbravka, who may push David de Gea for his starting spot. De Gea did well enough during the preseason, but having the ball at his feet is not one of his strengths and could end up being a major weakness as ten Hag wants to play out of the back. Dúbravka has EPL experience, so he’s more than just a backup, but he certainly won’t be a long term solution whether de Gea retires or sticks around beyond the end of his current deal which expires after the 2023-24 season.

It took a while, nearly the entire summer, but Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of that time making it very clear he didn’t want to be in ten Hag’s squad. The final straw appeared to be leaving Old Trafford early during a pre-season friendly with Rayo Vallecano. While ten Hag maintained that he saw a place for Ronaldo in his plans, having the Legend flaunt team rules and conduct made him expendable. Inside sources report that it wasn’t that Ronaldo left that concerned the club, but the fact that a few other players left along with him. If Ronaldo was going to be a negative influence the club needed to move him on, and PSG were more than happy to take him on for a meager sum. The fact that United agreed to pay half of his £475K a week salary to get him out the door says it all.

Senior / Major Transfers (Out)
Andreas Pereira (CAM, Fulham) - £8.6M
Cristiano Ronaldo (CF, PSG) - £5.5M
Eric Bailly (CB, Marseille) - Loan
Alex Telles (LB, Sevilla) - Loan
Dean Henderson (GK, Nottingham Forest) - Loan
Amad Diallo (RW, Sunderland) - Loan
Paul Pogba (CM, Juventus) - Free
Jesse Lingard (CAM, Nottingham Forest) - Free
Nemanja Matić (DM, AS Roma) - Free
Edinson Cavani (CF, Valencia) - Free
Juan Mata (CAM, Galatasaray) - Free

Senior Transfers (In)
Antony (LW, Ajax) - £85.5M
Casemiro (DM, Real Madrid) - £63.6M
Lisandro Martínez (CB, Ajax) - £51.6M
Tyrell Malacia (LB, Feyenoord) - £13.5M
Martin Dúbravka (GK, Newcastle) - Loan
Christian Eriksen (CM, Brentford) - Free

Final Transfer List (Impact Signings)

A somewhat low-key affair for United saw the club travel to Thailand, Australia, Norway, and finish up at home. With Erik ten Hag taking charge, attempting to install a new system, it was a minor blessing to have less pressure for the new manager. Moving from a counter-attacking system to a possession based attack, without a total roster overhaul, would be a difficult task for any manager. Ten Hag has been very open about the difficult road ahead, often preaching patience and stating that it’s a process that will take time.

Tactically, ten Hag will use a 4-2-3-1 formation with an approach very similar to his time at Ajax. It’s getting harder to view tactics solely through formations now, as player roles become more important than where they lineup on a graphic, but United will primarily play out of a 4-3-3. Fans familiar with Manchester City, and to a lesser degree Liverpool, will be familiar with ten Hag’s high-possession approach. United will be pushed to play out of the back, David de Gea will need to wean himself off kicking the ball across midfield, with both center backs being trusted to start advancing the ball. The double pivot will act more like an advanced midfielder / Free 8 paired with a defensive midfielder, with the DM dropping centrally as an outlet for the CB and moving the ball forward with quick short progressive passes. The addition of Casemiro should improve this approach, as Fred has proven to struggle in this capacity, but he didn’t join until deep in the pre-season. The forward line will look to attack in a five man front, much like Pep Guardiola’s City, with the forwards providing width and the attacking midfielder joining with the advanced midfielder from the double pivot in the channels. Unlike City, where the full backs tuck inside in an inverted role and the forwards look to stay wide, United’s fullbacks will look to overlap at times with the wingers sometimes playing more like an inside forward / inverted winger. Jadon Sancho often plays wide like a winger while Antony looks to cut inside and shoot with the RB overlapping.

There will be quite a bit of fluidity with players moving around the pitch often with an emphasis on pressing and defensive solidity. Ralf Rangnick installed a pressing system that worked well at times, but more often than not the change in defensive approach left United exposed. The players no longer have an excuse when it comes to pressing, but there are a few players that struggle with that part of the game.

The team got out of the gate quickly, enjoying their opener in Thailand and their time in Australia with three straight wins. Knocking off Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Melbourne Victory set fans’ expectations high (not to mention the media) for a chance at being title contenders again. The next few games chilled those expectations as United’s attack stalled, first in a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa and then in a 1-0 loss to Atlético Madrid. The win over Liverpool (4-1) raised expectations, but the loss to Atlético Madrid gave everyone a more realistic view of where ten Hag was with the team. That reality was confirmed in a 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford, game that United would dominate possession but that was about it. Entering the season unable to beat a team they should have beaten easily would start things off on a sour note, once again ten Hag would preach patience.
I respect the decision to offload CR7, and you'll (no doubt) now have far greater flexibility to maneuver in the transfer market wage-wise. Having just looked at the the wage structure at MU in my game (Dec, '22), I'm astonished at the money a lot of those players are earning!

You're going to have a lot of work to do in getting the squad molded to way you want it to be. I'm intrigued to see if you make any last minute moves.
2022-11-13 03:45#290191 J_ames : I respect the decision to offload CR7, and you'll (no doubt) now have far greater flexibility to maneuver in the transfer market wage-wise. Having just looked at the the wage structure at MU in my game (Dec, '22), I'm astonished at the money a lot of those players are earning!

You're going to have a lot of work to do in getting the squad molded to way you want it to be. I'm intrigued to see if you make any last minute moves.

In the world of FM23 I can deftly avoid the Piers Morgan interview...

First year manager Erik ten Hag doesn’t have the roster he wants, but he certainly has enough to work with. The team had many glaring holes coming off the tenures of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, the latter being much more vocal about those deficiencies, and the transfer window managed to paper over some of them. As a whole the team needs to get younger with more long term thinking in the transfer market, but these things won’t happen overnight. Ten Hag has been very clear that everything is a process, there are no easy answers.

Between the posts, in what could have been his last season in Manchester, David de Gea remains the first choice GK despite a summer of struggles playing out of the back. The club activated a one-year extension on his contract giving ten Hag some cushion for 2023. After twelve years at the club the 31-year old may be looking to move on unless he adapts quickly to ten Hag’s tactics. Martin Dúbravka was brought in as competition, but in reality is more of an experienced backup who is more comfortable in the sweeper keeper role. Even with that comfort, de Gea is a team leader and brings too much as a shot stopper to dismiss because he doesn’t play as well with the ball at his feet. Third choice is Tom Heaton, but he will be lucky to see the pitch at any point this year and could even lose his spot to a January transfer.

Central defense has been one area fans and the media have been loudest about, especially after Harry Maguire saw a significant dip in form last season as United constantly allowed goals on the break and Maguire looked lost. United were linked with a number of CB but only ended up adding one, Ajax’s Lisandro Martinez, and the hope is that he will fix the problems with Maguire’s play. The speedy Martinez can provide cover for Maguire who is freed up to progress the ball. With Raphaël Varane coming back from an injury plagued season ten Hag has three players to choose from as his starting pairing, even with Maguire retaining the captain’s band he could easily lose his spot to Varane if the Frenchman gets back to his Real Madrid best. Victor Lindelöf is still at the club and represents a solid backup / cup competition option, but depth at CB is pretty thin beyond Martinez-Maguire-Varane. Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe fill out the depth chart, but both are injured and figure to miss 4-5 months.

Fullback is where ten Hag will struggle the most with depth, the transfer market didn’t work out well in terms of this season with Tyrell Malacia being the only addition. Left back is going to be crowded with Luke Shaw the likely starter, Malacia breathing down his neck, and Brandon Williams a late game bench option. Shaw managed to reclaim his career under Solskjaer, but with more pressure on advancing the ball he will see serious competition from Malacia. The club reportedly signed Shaw to a new four-year deal, but this may say more about squad depth than Shaw’s place as a starter. Right back is likely the weakest position on defense with Diogo Dalot of Aaron Wan-Bissaka forming ten Hag’s only options, with Dalot much better going forward and Wan-Bissaka a defense-first option. Dalot has the edge, with Wan-Bissaka falling down the depth chart under Rangnick, but he might find his job in jeopardy at the next transfer window. Brandon Williams is another player that will be spending more time with the physio than on the pitch, a torn calf muscle will keep the youngster out for up to 5 months.

Central midfield is where the most change has occurred, and some of the most intense criticism was levied after last season. The Frenkie de Jong saga was an indication of how much help this unit needed, with Fred and Scott McTominay (McFred) being deemed ill-suited to club ambitions. The two were quickly pushed aside by newcomers Christian Eriksen and Casemiro who take over the more attacking / advanced position in the double pivot and the defensive midfielder role respectively. Fred has often been criticized for short passes backwards and sideways too much, often finding himself the target of a pressing trigger, and McTominay’s positioning has been an issue when trying to play out of the back. In theory Casemiro and Eriksen solve all of those problems and bring experience and creativity to a unit that was sorely lacking.

Attacking midfield remains the same, though they will function differently under ten Hag. Bruno Fernandes managed to make himself undroppable, but that may also have to do with the bizarre fall of Donny van de Beek. Fernandes will still be in the central attacking midfielder role, but will form an attacking partnership with Eriksen when United move into a front five in attack. In theory, van de Beek is the perfect backup for Fernandes but early indications are that he will struggle to get playing time. Reuniting with ten Hag, who managed him during his breakout season at Ajax, should give van de Beek a boost but three lost years may have more to do with managers and tactics. If Fernandes is out for an extended period of time we are more likely to see Eriksen fill in than van de Beek unless things change quickly.

Can van de Beek resurrect his career?

The forward line is where ten Hag will need to do the most shuffling and praying when it comes to figuring out the best lineup. United have an embarrassing number of left wingers with Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho primarily starting there. Sancho has played on both sides, usually on the right with Rashford on the left, but analytics show Sancho being more creative on the left so ten Hag is likely to use him as the primary starter. The addition of Antony locks up right wing, but the depth chart is exceedingly thin with Anthony Elanga the only other right winger truly available. Mason Greenwood is technically still on the roster, but due to legal issues his time at United is over. There is a chance he could return to training if cleared of all charges, but even if that happens the feeling at Old Trafford is that they will move on from him as quickly as possible. The reality is that Sancho will move over to RW if Antony is out for an extended period of time. Center forward is about as messy as you might expect with Ronaldo departing and Marcus Rashford being played more at LW under Solskjaer and Rangnick. The pre-season seems to place Rashford as the preferred starting CF, but Martial had a good pre-season showing so he may do his best to push Rashford back to LW. After some concerns about Rashford in the wake of Solskjaer’s dismissal, the club opted to offer him a new five-year contract in a vote of confidence.

Will a new contract boost his form?
Your attention to detail (re: the squad) is remarkable, although not much of a surprise considering you're a fan of the club irl! There's serious flaws to the squad that MU has built imo, and that should make it quite a fun save/story for you to tell us about.

Surely you have to invest in a *proper* striker at the first opportunity (ie. a big transfer budget) you get!

The feeling in England is that the league is Manchester City’s to lose. City has been dominant in recent years, but the addition of Erling Haaland could take them to another level, a level few in the world can match. Putting that aside, the race for the top four could be the most crowded it has been in years with a healthy mix of elite teams continuing to look elite and upstarts looking to shake up the established order. Depending on how things shake out, this could be one of the most competitive seasons in memory in terms of the slots for European competitions and the relegation battle.

Can Pep take the next step?

As mentioned, City is a heavy favorite to win the league. They were already favorites to repeat before the signing of Haaland. Even losing Raheem Sterling (Chelsea) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal) did little to alter their trajectory. Pep Guardiola has this team humming and should make City the second team in Premier League history to win three in a row, making it five in six seasons. This could also be the squad to finally win the Champions League for United’s noisy neighbors, the prize that has eluded the Abu Dhabi ownership. Behind City is a crowd of teams looking to build on last season and either make City sweat or get revenge. Liverpool come into the season as favorites to finish second, after falling a single point behind City last year, even losing Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich did little to dull their summer spending. The addition of Darwin Núñez for £67.5M gives them the No. 9 they have lacked and the core of the 92-point team has remained untouched, Jürgen Klopp has his team playing about as well as anyone. 3-5 is where things are going to get nasty with Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs the favorites to grab the last two Champions League spots. Chelsea are favored thanks to the massive investments made by their new owners, but there is room for a slip in form with so many new additions. Arsenal and Spurs are much closer than the two fan bases would be willing to admit, especially after Spurs topped their hated rivals by just two points last season. Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte are looking to take the next step and elevate their squads from Top 4 to title contenders, unusually heavy spending for both has given fans hope that this is the year they make a run at silverware.

Despite what the media and fans might think, United find themselves firmly outside of the league’s elite. The Europa League is likely their ceiling, unless they manage to win the competition this year, and will see stiff competition from a number of teams for the two Europa slots. The speed at which Erik ten Hag can turn things around will determine how far ahead of the other teams they will finish, with Leicester looking like a fringe competitor for a Champions League slot. Close behind are West Ham United, who finished just two points behind United in 7th last year, and well funded Newcastle United. Newcastle invested heavily after being taken over by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, essentially Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and look to improve on their 11th place finish last season.

If Forest fail, it won’t be for lack of spending.

The teams leading the race to get relegated are Nottingham Forest, Leeds, Fulham, and Bournemouth. Forest are an odd case, having set a Premier League record for transfers (25) with a blend of purchases, loans, and free transfers. Fulham has struggled to stay up regularly, and Bournemouth join them as low-hanging fruit after winning promotion. Leeds is the best-odds current Premier League team to be sent down after narrowly escaping the drop last season. Hopes were high for United’s long time rival, but that was limited to the tenure of Marcelo Bielsa who has been replaced with “The American” Jesse Marsch.
2022-11-15 06:08#290267 J_ames : Your attention to detail (re: the squad) is remarkable, although not much of a surprise considering you're a fan of the club irl! There's serious flaws to the squad that MU has built imo, and that should make it quite a fun save/story for you to tell us about.

Surely you have to invest in a *proper* striker at the first opportunity (ie. a big transfer budget) you get!

I actually don't have much money thanks to all the other purchases, and the roster left over from previous regimes is such a mess it's going to take years to "fix" and fit to ten Hag's system. Rashford / Martial are going to have to do for a while.
Another interesting (and comprehensive) update. I'm worried for you if you're going to be relying on Rashford / Martial for years, though their 'physical' attributes should work well in the match engine.
Please forgive my delay, concerned my save may have been corrupted. I'm at the end of March (having a great season) and my game keeps crashing. Waiting for SI to respond, if it can't be saved I'll have to start over.
2022-11-17 04:21#290312 J_ames : Another interesting (and comprehensive) update. I'm worried for you if you're going to be relying on Rashford / Martial for years, though their 'physical' attributes should work well in the match engine.

I'm more worried about the Martial part, he's worked well in pre-season (like in reality) but knowing him he might be spending a little too much time with the physio. This roster just needs to hold together to finish the season, all the second choice options are not great and the tactic I'm using makes that more apparent in midfield.

If taking over one of the biggest clubs in the world wasn’t a big enough task for new manager Erik ten Hag, the pressure to succeed immediately conspired to make the job even more difficult. Ten Hag spent most of the summer in an expectations grinder while doing his best to preach patience, trying to make it as clear as possible that his time at United would be a process. After the tenures of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick the new manager has had to grit his teeth through “Erik ten Months” jokes from the fan base. He would get two “easy” games to find his feet before his first tough test against Spurs.

Ten Hag’s first taste of the Premier League would be about as sweet as it could possibly be, and fans would leave the Molineux Stadium buzzing with excitement. The transition from Rangnick’s pressing to ten Hag’s appeared seamless, if not improved, and that would help Wolves’ Steve Davis would open up his season with a nightmare. Right out of the gate Wolves had trouble getting out of their own half, and United managed long spells of possession that ended in dangerous scoring chances. Just 15’ into the game Christian Eriksen would unlock their defense with a wonderful ball into the box that found Bruno Fernandes for a goal that looked too easy. Fernandes’ first goal of the season would be the kind that United fans have dreamed of, hopefully ten Hag’s approach will bring many more. Things really started to fall apart for Wolves when United went up 2-0 after 27’ thanks to a stunning goal from Casemiro that a lapse in concentration allowed to happen. Wolves successfully defended a corner but United collected it, cycled it around to the opposite side to Casemiro outside the box, Wolves failed to mark him and with their positioning essentially gave him an open shot at half the goal. Marcus Rashford scored his first with some bad luck on Wolves part, an Eriksen free kick was headed toward goal and blocked by José Sá only for it to pop straight up and hit the crossbar. Rashford was right their to head it in for good and a 3-0 lead. Things seemed to turn for Wolves when Casemiro earned a straight red, much to ten Hag’s dismay, at 56’ for a questionable sideline tackle. Fred came on for Rashford as ten Hag opted to try and hold their lead, but even being up a man didn’t help the hosts as Eriksen would find Fernandes again at 71’ for a 4-0 win that would start the season off the right foot.

United’s first home game would see a proper thrashing of Fulham at home in a 4-0 win. Luke Shaw would add two goals, both off corners, with Rashford and Fernandes scoring for their second game in a row. Their next game, a trip to Brentford, would turn out to be an early season test after two convincing wins. Casemiro would be handed a further two batch ban for his red against Wolves, so Fred would get his second straight start. Hard to tell if Casemiro would have helped, but the game turned into a tight contest thanks to some sloppy United defending. Jadon Sancho would assist United’s opener with the kind of play United’s fans have been looking for since his transfer from Dortmund, running down the left wing he would dribble around a defender and make a run right at Brentford CB Pontus Jansson to draw him in. Once Jansson had committed Sancho would place a perfect pass to Rashford in the vacated space for an easy 1-0 lead. Raphaël Varane would be called for tripping Ivan Toney, who would convert the penalty, to bring Brentford into the game 1-1. The goal that gave United a 2-1 would be an incredible series, the kind of interplay that the team has sorely lacked, and the fact that Sancho keeps putting himself in the middle of it points to a more promising season under ten Hag. Lisandro Martinez picked out a Brentford through ball, passed out wide to Shaw who advanced the ball down the left flank, passed off to Sancho wide left of the box, who then looped back around to the front of the box by dribbling past two defenders, passed back to Fred and continued his run into the box, Fred passed it right back and Sancho scored with Brentford’s defenders looking lost. Varane’s day got worse when Brentford had their own exchange of passes to avoid the press, delivering the ball to Toney running free between Varane and Martinez in the middle, a pile up resulted as Toney tried to shoot and the ball deflected off Varane and into the net at 71’. Overall United were not playing well, and as the end of the game approached it seemed that a draw would be a good result. Brentford was making more of their chances, and the body language on ten Hag’s side showed frustration in being unable to take control of the game. Luckily for United, they managed one more magic moment with Sancho right in the middle. Anthony Elanga came on for a tired Antony and immediately made an impact, running down the right and sending a slashing pass through the box that found Sancho on the back side of the box for a 3-2 lead at 88’, the last gasp effort they needed to pull out a win.

“We did not play well, not our best, but it was good to find a way” said ten Hag after the game. Indeed, it was an important test for the first time manager. The game could have easily been a loss or a 2-2 draw, but they found enough creativity on offense to escape.

The Brentford game would turn out to be great practice, because Antonio Conte and Spurs would end up being a real fight. Fred would need to start again for the suspended Casemiro, but Spurs would also be without Oliver Skipp and Eric Dier. There was hope Harry Kane would sit due to a knee injury, but he ended up in the starting lineup and ten Hag would need to deal with him. The Old Trafford crowd would be in for a tight contest, they would just need to wait a little over 70’ for it to start. Antony would fire United to both of their goals in the same way, getting to the end line and playing a ball back across the box. First he would find Fernandes just 4’ into the game, and then Rashford at 69’ by just barely pipping Hugo Lloris to the ball for a 2-0 lead. Things seemed locked up, with Spurs having trouble igniting their attack, but a penalty would get Spurs back into the game at 71’. Shaw would bump into Dejan Kulusevski at the edge of the box, and the winger would make the most of it with Spurs’ players surrounding the ref calling for Shaw to get his second booking. They would only get a penalty, which Kane converted, but Conte could be seen screaming at the officials as Brandon Williams was subbed on for Shaw. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg would head in a corner at 87’ to pull Spurs level at 2-2, and the collapse seemed complete. Perhaps the Brentford game helped the team prepare for this kind of situation, but United came right back the next minute and scored for a 3-2 lead. Eriksen found Sancho who found Rashford to win the game 3-2. Spurs would end up dominating possession, but United managed to heavily out-shoot them and snatch full points away from a furious Conte.

“Again, not playing our best, many mistakes, but we found a way to win. I have to say that Marcus has been much improved, he had an excellent game,” said ten Hag while experiencing some déjà vu. He would be right to single out Rashford, who garnered Man Of The Match with an 8.6 rating to go along with his two goals. He would end up finishing the month with (5) Premier League goals, good enough for second. He would be just (7) back of first, with Erling Haaland scoring an eye watering (12) goals.

United would end the month with an easy 4-0 win over Aston Villa. The second squad would get the nod with Manchester City coming up in less than a week, and they would make the most of it. Anthony Martial would score twice along with Alejandro Garnacho netting his first for the senior side, something ten Hag will need to see more of if the squad is going to make it through the season. The perfect start would leave United tied for first in the league with City and Liverpool.

A few weeks into the season and ten Hag would get his first look at cup schedules with the Europa League and Carabao Cup draw on the same day. Wolves’ Davis would be sweating the draw as United would land Wolves in the Carabao Cup third round, a matchup ten Hag should expect to win after the 4-0 demolition to open the Premier League season. The more interesting draw saw United land a favorable group in the Europa League. Even before the draw United would be expected to win their group, short of an impossible group with Arsenal / Lazio / Roma, but the results put them in a decent group that will be tough to run roughshod over. Freiburg and Trabzonspor will test United’s depth as ten Hag juggles a packed pre-World Cup schedule, and a trip to Viktoria Plzeň will be a mid-week headache. United may not win every game, but they remain favorites to win the group.

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