Manchester United is perilously near to the crisis cliff that it has frequented so frequently in the last 10 years.
There was hope at Old Trafford after the first season of the Erik ten Hag era that the Red Devils were once again headed in the right path. Despite having taken some significant losses, they concluded the Dutchman’s first season with a top-three Premier League finish and a title.
In the first ten games of the 2023–24 season, his efforts are starting to fall apart. United has already dropped six games, will have a difficult time progressing through the group stages of the Champions League, and has been plagued by several off-field problems.
On Saturday, they face Brentford at home, a team that has recently struggled to convert projected goals into real ones without Ivan Toney.
With the exception of Rasmus Hojlund, United were dreadful in Tuesday’s loss to Galatasaray. Ten Hag can change their current situation by doing the following.
Start Mason Mount from the right instead of Bruno Fernandes
Early indications indicate Mason Mount is not the key player United believed he might be, despite the sample size being tiny and the fact that he is still getting adjusted to his new surroundings and teammates.
When he was a Chelsea player, he hardly ever played there. Although he played as a number ten most of the time, many of his finest performances for the Blues came from the right, which was a problematic position for this incarnation of United.
Bruno Fernandes, the club captain and outstanding player, should virtually always start in the hole because he was ineffective there against Galatasaray.
For several reasons, Antony shouldn’t begin. Actually, Mount ought to be the loser in this situation.
Christian Eriksen, chief dictator
There was a period at the start of the second half against Galatasaray where United threatened to run away with it.
At the heart of those efforts was the playmaking of Christian Eriksen, who was able to spread play at will and pull the visitors apart with his range of passing.
Brentford are likely to sit in at Old Trafford and invite pressure for much of the afternoon. If United want to break down another deep block, they’ll need Eriksen on that pitch to alleviate the burden on Mount and Fernandes.
End the Sofyan Amrabat left-back experiment
Needs-must, survival of the fittest, et cetera et cetera. United have been pulled too-and-fro by their injury crisis this season.
Three left-backs – including Sergio Reguilon, signed on loan as emergency cover on transfer deadline day – have been missing through injury lately and remain unavailable for the visit of Brentford.
The solution cannot be placing Sofyan Amrabat in that position, though, with the Moroccan dragged all over the place by Galatasaray’s assortment of tricky forwards on Tuesday.
Ten Hag has seemingly been asking the Moroccan to step into midfield in conjunction with the natural tasks of a left-back, but this was exposed greatly in their most recent loss – an astute tactician like Thomas Frank will have noticed this and conjured a plan to attack this weakness.
If there is another option available to start at right-back, Diogo Dalot should be on the left for the time being. At least he understands how an inverted full-back should balance their responsibilities.
For goodness sake, show some intensity
At the risk of falling into trapped cliches and pub talk, United could do with their players running around a bit and showing some desire for the badge.
Hojlund has led by example since his arrival from Atalanta, putting his physicality to excellent use and looking like the club’s most capable number nine in a long while.
He can’t carry the burden alone, however. Marcus Rashford – the main proponent as to why Ten Hag’s system worked last season – has not carried himself with the same intensity this term, let alone lacking the magic and stardust which saw him grab 30 goals in all competitions.
This is a two-fold problem which falls back Ten Hag, however. The players are not fit enough to play at full capacity for 90 minutes and they have not responded to his instructions in the same way. That has to change or Brentford will be the next side to run riot at Old Trafford.