In their third loss in their first five Premier League games, Man United fell to Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 on Saturday.
Erik ten Hag would have been within his rights to set lofty goals for his second season in charge of Manchester United after a fantastic first season that included a trophy and Champions League qualification.
At the time of the Dutchman’s arrival at Old Trafford in May 2022, the team was in disarray, and he took over a ship that was already sinking. But he started to change the club’s fortunes with shrewd hiring and top-notch coaching.
Despite a few setbacks, including the controversy surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo and the atrocious performances by Brentford, Liverpool, and Manchester City, he did a fantastic job in his first season as manager. He raised standards, put an end to the player-power period, rebuilt the relationship between players and supporters, and provided United a playable style that the team had been lacking for a while.
After those achievements, Ten Hag, whose managerial abilities have already been called into question this season as a result of Jadon Sancho’s social media post earlier this month, would have been able to set an ambitious goal for the 2023–24 season, such as competing with teams like Arsenal and City in their quest for the title. He decided to take a more methodical and practical approach instead.
Ten Hag stated: “My hope is that we have to do better,” at the club’s end-of-season awards event in May. We must always strive to improve.
We have a solid basis, but we still need to improve. This season still has one game left, and it’s a wonderful chance to move forward.
“Thereafter, we have the summer, and in order to perform even better, we must raise our standards. We must at least match what our rivals are doing because the competition is fierce and they are rising to greater levels.
“However, I don’t believe it is sufficient. We want to move forward, raise our standards, and contend for the top two; we don’t want to stay where we are.
We must raise our standards and demand more.
No matter how you feel about Ten Hag’s desire to push United into the top two and improve on their third-place position from the previous season, United now does not even remotely resemble a team that can do so. The Reds have dropped three of their first five league games, a feat they had never accomplished in the Premier League history. In their two victories, both over Wolves and Nottingham Forest, they were far from convincing victories.
This season, United hasn’t played with much assurance or vigor. Despite spending yet another eye-watering sum during the transfer window, they have fallen behind from the previous campaign.
Even if it’s still early, new players are still getting used to the team, and a string of injury problems hasn’t helped, United are capable of doing better. On Saturday, their 3-1 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion served as another sobering reminder of how easily this club may crumble under pressure.
After five games, nothing is settled, but at that time, a lot can be lost. While teams like Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Arsenal are already on a roll, United is now in the bottom part of the table.