The four biggest problems Erik ten Hag must address at stricken Man Utd

  • Man Utd eliminated from Carabao Cup in round four by weakened Newcastle on Wednesday
  • Red Devils beaten 3-0 at home for second time in four days
  • Erik ten Hag is under scrutiny for this season's results
Ten Hag has a number of things to address
Ten Hag has a number of things to address / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Manchester United, you really do surprise us.

Actually, that's a lie. At this point, this self-implosion comes around like clockwork. It's happened in every mini-era since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement (bar David Moyes' reign, which skipped the happy days and went straight to the miserable ones).

Erik ten Hag, your time is now. Pressure has piled on the Dutchman having entered the 2023/24 season with high expectations and a run of eight losses in their first 15 games.

On Wednesday night, they were unceremoniously dumped out of the Carabao Cup at home to a Newcastle United side who, based on their starting lineup, were not trying particularly hard to win. Oh, and it was 0-3.

Ten Hag has a lot of problems on his plate. 90min has whittled those down to four key issues.

A common theme in a new regime

Sofyan Amrabat, Victor Lindelof
The same old story for Man Utd / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

United building themselves up for a fall is nothing new. They showed improvement under Louis van Gaal, then stopped scoring. They showed improvement under Jose Mourinho, then stopped defending. They seemingly turned that corner around the bend of purgatory under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then stopped doing anything useful.

Ten Hag is now in that cycle - United look far from the largely streetwise and efficient outfit they proved to be last season. You know, bar the odd 4-0 or 6-3 or 7-0 hammering, which now look more explainable.

But this is different to the hitches of years gone by. This current version of United has been built in Ten Hag's image, a team that should be a constant direct threat and a beast in transition. He has been handed almost every major transfer target he has asked for and yet his side are rolling over in such a familiar fashion, a new dressing room haunted by the spirits of the old.

This a culture problem as much as a Ten Hag one. The blame is equal in this area.

Underperforming superstars

Steve McClaren
Fernandes' form has nosedived / Michael Regan/GettyImages

If Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes were at even a fraction of the levels they reached last season, United would probably have chalked up three or four more wins by now and their form would be considered more of a blip than a crisis.

The Red Devils' star men have massively underperformed to the extent they have a combined nine goal contributions in 28 games across all competitions. You can cover bad performances with goals but United's mask has slipped and their poor displays are being exposed.

What doesn't help is the very online (but, in fairness, usually very right) Body Language Experts™ do not take a liking to Rashford and Fernandes, with the former not a particularly hard worker and the latter an irksome annoyance with his demeanour.

Underperforming regular stars

Any danger of a positive contribution? / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Alright, it's hardly groundbreaking analysis to say 'players = bad', but stay with me.

If the campaign abrubtly ended today, who would be heralded as United's player of the season? Rasmus Hojlund, who is without a goal contribution in his seven Premier League games? Andre Onana, who has been at fault for about 23 goals conceded? Harry Maguire, who is this country's most notorious and accidental football pantomime villain?

There's been little source of positivity from the whole squad, particularly from those who were supposed to make the leap into the Rashford and Fernandes bracket - £82m on Antony was heralded as the single worst allocation of funds in human history on Twitter (I will never bow to Elon Musk and call it 'X').

History has taught us that if so many players are performing well below standard, that's a managerial fault.

Outside noise

Erik ten Hag
Ten Hag cut a lonely figure as he left the pitch / Michael Regan/GettyImages

I'm not naming names. I will not name names. I refuse to name names. You know who and what I'm talking about, though.

The constant hysteria around United when they're doing well is as harmful as that as when they're doing not-so-well. Their form so far this season has everyone wondering why they were so hyped in the first place, whether they were actually that good last year.

Is it a coincidence that United collapse so soon after they are heralded as potential title contenders or is there a pattern emerging from the outside? Will there ever be sustainable progress if every move the club makes is constantly under such an intrusive microscope?

Maybe this is fanciful. Maybe you just won't ever escape such scrutiny at a club the size of United. But those passionately and loudly fighting their corner may have been doing more harm than good in recent years.