MARTIN KEOWN:Erik ten Hag's defenders could be lambs to the slaughter

MARTIN KEOWN: If David de Gea is as naive this week as he was at Brentford, United will be THUMPED… Liverpool are the most petrifying pressers in world football and Erik ten Hag’s defenders could be lambs to the slaughter

  • Erik ten Hag must become a strong leader to resolve Manchester United’s crisis 
  • United produced their most embarrassing performance ever against Brentford
  • They will suffer again if they play the same tactics against Liverpool on Monday

Erik ten Hag has just endured his longest week in football. He was back on the training field within 24 hours of that 4-0 defeat by Brentford, the most embarrassing and inept performance from a Manchester United team in living memory. 

I have no problem with Ten Hag putting his players through a Sunday running session. He felt they didn’t do enough to deserve a rest day and it’s going to take incredibly strong leadership from United’s newest boss to resolve this crisis. 

United have had six different managers since Sir Alex Ferguson. That’s six different philosophies to adapt to and believe in. When that happens, the basics can be forgotten, and there was evidence of that at Brentford last weekend. 

Erik ten Hag must demonstrate incredibly strong leadership to turn United’s fortunes around

Club captain Harry Maguire was part of a United defence that was embarrassed by Brentford

David De Gea has played under all six post-Ferguson managers and he is experienced enough to know he should not give a marked Christian Eriksen the ball on the edge of the box. 

But in his blinkered quest to stick to the latest letter of the law laid out by his new boss and pass out from the back, he played into the opposition’s hands. 

There were too many passengers in the United team in these situations, too many pretending they wanted the ball when they didn’t, too many poor decisions made. 

One example was when Harry Maguire had the ball and was looking for options. He had no one but Eriksen. Everyone else had disappeared into the distance. Already 1-0 down, United lost the ball and almost conceded another goal, with Maguire forced to commit a foul. 

United sit bottom of the Premier League table having conceded six goals in two games

It was extremely naive of United’s players to ignore these warning signs and continue to give Brentford chances to win possession high up the pitch. 

There was no confidence or authority in United’s passing and the home side’s players and supporters could sense they were always a moment away from winning the ball back.

Ten Hag must change his gameplan for the visit of Liverpool on Monday

Try these tactics against Liverpool – the most petrifying pressers in world football – and United’s defenders will be like lambs to the slaughter all over again. Winning the ball close to the opposition goal is their speciality. 

Jurgen Klopp’s entire team pushes up so much that you’ll see the back four, led by their commander in chief Virgil van Dijk, on the halfway line. That condenses the space in the opposition’s half, where Liverpool’s front three can smother their opponents.

United’s players need to be brave in their passing but also prepared to bypass the press by looking longer if need be, regardless of the manager’s instructions.

It’s about in-game management and the players didn’t take it upon themselves to stop making these same mistakes over and over at Brentford. It screamed of a lack of leadership on the pitch. 

For too long, there’s been a lack of desire and determination in United’s players, so much so that they’re in danger of turning into the Premier League’s also-rans. 

That is in stark contrast to the collective energy at Liverpool – there you’ll find a group that have total belief in their boss’s tactics and a club that has an incredible unity between the players, coaches and fanbase. 

United had that in the past, but they’ve got a long way to go to get that back. In the meantime, I expect to see changes from Ten Hag. Raphael Varane should replace Lisandro Martinez, while Scott McTominay can give them more physicality, particularly from set pieces.

Brentford tore United to pieces by unhinging Ten Hag’s Reds in their recent 4-0 hammering

As the Premier League celebrates its 30th anniversary, United can say proudly that they won 13 of those titles to Liverpool’s one. It’s an incredible institution built on winning and Old Trafford used to be the most difficult away day in Europe. 

Never mind a penalty, you’d be lucky to get a free-kick in that cauldron! Ten Hag needs that stadium bubbling over on Monday night. United have had the worst possible start to this Premier League season, losing to Brighton then Brentford. 

But Liverpool have only picked up two draws themselves. United’s players need to believe that they capitalise on their opponents’ uncharacteristic slow start and win this game. 

If they do, they can leap above Liverpool and suddenly all that unwanted noise about a club in crisis won’t be quite so deafening.

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