Erik ten Hag must have been seething as he watched his Manchester United side huff and puff to a woeful 2-1 defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday.
With a tactical analysis of their Premier League curtain-raiser exposing everything that went wrong for the Red Devils, it’s clear that Ten Hag has a lot of work to do if he wants to get his team where they need to be.
However, he’s always going to have his back against the wall in that respect because United have failed miserably in their attempts to furnish him with sufficient transfer incomings to kick-start the club’s rebuild.
Tough times for Man Utd
The Frenkie de Jong saga has dragged on for what feels like forever, Ajax have out-priced United in multiple deals and the bewildering bid for Marko Arnautović over the weekend only compounded matters.
And with the XI that Ten Hag fielded against Brighton clearly not being good enough to secure so much as Champions League football for United, we couldn’t help wondering what it is that it would take.
To put things simply, we’ve decided to draw up the starting XI that Ten Hag actually needs in order to be successful at United, and anyone who watched the Brighton game will know that’s no small undertaking.
The XI that Man Utd needs
We’ve combed through the United first-team to establish which players are making the grade and which aren’t, before replacing the latter with signings that aren’t entirely unrealistic to make in the next 12 to 18 months.
But even if you do read through the XI and think we’re away with the fairies on some sort of pipe dream, the point still stands that the line-up only seems crazy because that’s just how much change is needed for Ten Hag to make a success of his United endeavour.
So when you walk through our team down below, you should frankly be buoyed if you’re not feeling too shocked, because the simple fact of the matter is that United are still miles away from where they need to be.
GK: Dean Henderson
Is Henderson a better goalkeeper than David de Gea? Not necessarily, but is he a goalkeeper better equipped to execute Ten Hag’s style of play? Damn straight.
The sooner that United can get Henderson back to Old Trafford, the sooner they’ll be able to start passing from the back more efficiently with De Gea hitherto struggling to maintain possession and keep the ball moving quickly.
RB: Benjamin Pavard
Look, just about everybody’s gone cold on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and we’re seriously unconvinced that Diogo Dalot is an elite full-back either, so United need to roll the dice at right-back to move forward.
And Pavard would be a superb addition for the Red Devils not only for his versatility across every position in the back-line, but also for his experience in midfield, allowing him to play in an elbow back four where he can press high and bomb forward.
CB: Raphael Varane
As much as Harry Maguire can be treated cruelly at times, there’s no escaping the fact that he’s played shockingly for a good 12 months now, so it’s time for United to trust in their four-time Champions League winner in defence.
CB: Lisandro Martinez
A tricky debut doesn’t take away from the fact that Martinez has a lot of potential to be exactly the type of centre-back that Ten Hag is looking for, spraying passes across the pitch and kick-starting passages of possession.
LB: Luke Shaw
He’s not perfect, no, but Shaw still has a lot of the attributes that Ten Hag appreciates in a full-back and could soon become one of the first names on the team sheet again if he can rediscover his 2020/21 form.
CM: Declan Rice
Let’s rip up the floorboards and start from scratch in United’s midfield because it’s the source of all their problems with the deeply-flawed combination of Scott McTominay and Fred continuing to tank their build-up play.
And while signing Rice would certainly cost United an eye-watering fee, his defensive nous – the club has been crying out for a proper number six for what feels like centuries – and epic ball progression skills would mean he’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
CM: Frenkie de Jong
Similarly, De Jong has been hounded by United all summer long for good reason because he juggles a lot of key attributes that the team badly lacks right now: technical prowess in tight spaces and ability to break defensive lines.
The Red Devils currently feels as though their build-up play dribbles down a cul-de-sac by the time it reaches Fred, but a world in which De Jong is playing would be one where United can suddenly move the ball forwards 10 times more easily.
CM: Bruno Fernandes
Look, for all his faults, Fernandes is still a top-class operator, an indefatigable presence in midfield and one of the world’s best numbers 10’s, so this isn’t an area of the pitch that Ten Hag needs to sweat about too much.
With Marcus Rashford on the decline and Anthony Elanga not setting the world alight, United need a refresh amongst their wide forwards and while Antony isn’t exactly Lionel Messi, he’s one of the better options available.
A penchant for goal contributions and a successful working relationship with Ten Hag means this is definitely an avenue worth exploring once Ajax hopefully – for United’s sake – lower their dizzying asking price.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo
Sub in Anthony Martial accordingly if you think that Ronaldo will up sticks, but you only have to look at the second-half against Brighton to see just how much United benefitted from having a number nine to stick on the opposition’s defence.
And apparently this Ronaldo kid is good at scoring goals. Who knew?
LW: Jadon Sancho
The ceiling for Sancho is so, so high and there’s good reason to think that he could rekindle his Borussia Dortmund form once ‘Ten Hag ball’ really kicks into gear. That’s enough to make him a guaranteed starter in our eyes.
Big, big changes required
Yup, that’s right, your humble GIVEMESPORT writer thinks that United need a new winger, right-back, two midfield additions and a switcheroo between the sticks before Ten Hag has all the ammunition he needs.
It may seem crazy, but when you consider the financial backing that Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have received over the years, it shouldn’t be from without the realms of possibility for United to execute.
Well, that is of course unless you have the recent transfer strategy of the Red Devils which seems to be perpetually jammed in a cycle of being drawn into protracted sagas before resorting to showy panic buys.
But either way, the blue print is there and United need to follow it if they want the Ten Hag era to be remembered as anything other than the latest sorry chapter in their post-Sir Alex Ferguson misery.