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Three biggest Man Utd issues Erik ten Hag has fixed in the transfer window


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Watching Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, the problems often looked obvious, but the solutions less so.

For too long this has been a team lacking balance and cohesion, without the coaches to put a sticking plaster over those defects.

The most obvious fixes always lay in the transfer market but United made the wrong moves and prioritised the wrong positions.

But under Erik ten Hag they now have a coach capable of finding answers to problems on the training ground and during games. Perhaps as importantly, the former Ajax manager quickly diagnosed what this team was missing and used his first transfer window to correct some of those problems.

It’s not a great reflection on United’s transfer strategy of recent years that they have the world’s most expensive centre-back on the bench, but it’s also indisputable that having a left-footer in the centre of defence has improved this team.

Lisandro Martinez doesn’t just add aggression to United’s defending, but he opens up the pitch when it comes to their attempts to play out from the back. There are now more options open to the defenders when trying to pick a pass as a result of that balance and the Argentine has proved himself adept at firing quick passes into the midfield, often breaking the opposition press as a result.

Martinez and Raphael Varane have improved United’s defence immeasurably, both in and out of possession. Where that leaves Harry Maguire is a question for another day, given the positivity and momentum being built up, but it’s clear United have needed this balance for some time.

It was in July 2020, during the final days of that Covid-disrupted season, that Solskjaer told Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake that “we need a left-footed centre-back, so keep going.” Even then the issue was obvious, but it’s taken two years for it to be fixed with the £56million signing of Martinez.

Solskjaer also identified midfield as an issue that needed addressing but didn’t do enough about it. The signing of Bruno Fernandes in January 2020 added creativity and spark but the only other central midfield signing in the two-and-a-half years until this summer was Donny van de Beek, an opportunistic £35million signing that failed to fix any of the issues and appeared to be signed without a plan on how he was going to be used.

Under Ten Hag, United’s midfield already looks better. Casemiro can be the world-class defensive midfielder they’ve been missing – although Scott McTominay is doing a very good impression of him at the moment – but Christian Eriksen is probably the game changer in that area.

The Dane has brought an ability to keep possession and provide control when it was lacking previously. He has arguably been United’s player of the season so far, bringing the best out of McTominay and Fernandes. Ten Hag identified the need for a ball-playing midfielder and while he didn’t manage to land Frenkie de Jong, the Barcelona midfielder isn’t being missed thanks to Eriksen’s form.

The other issue Ten Hag has addressed this summer has been the attack and again bringing a better balance. This is an issue United couldn’t have foreseen 12 months ago, but towards the end of last season it became obvious they were a little too predictable in the final third and too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s taken £85.5million to add a left-footed right-winger to the squad but Antony has made an immediate impact. Not only does he give better balance to the attack now, but he is hugely unpredictable, as he showed on his debut against Arsenal.

His addition provides extra competition in the final third, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga now battling for spots out wide and Ronaldo and Anthony Martial competing to play at centre-forward.

Yesterday, Martinez, Eriksen and Antony all started and this was as good a performance as United have produced in many months, even more so given the calibre of opposition.

Arsenal had spells where they looked impressive at Old Trafford, but tactically United were excellent and they had the balance right in their side. When they had the opportunity to go and win the game they did just that.

This has been a record-breaking summer for United and the price tags on Martinez and Antony, especially, bring some added pressure, but so far the signs are that Ten Hag knew what he needed to start applying long-term fixes to this team.

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