After Manchester United beat rivals Liverpool 4-0 in Bangkok, Sky Sports analyzes Erik ten Hag’s debut, how his players adapted to his methods and what the performance said about the season ahead…
Ten Hag methods are already bearing fruit
Even before Manchester United’s three-goal flurry in the first half, it was clear that the principles that Erik ten Hag had meticulously drilled into his players throughout pre-season – sharper reaction, security in transition , confidence on the ball and cohesion without him – had been taken on board.
There was a zip in Manchester United’s game, a hunger in their pressing but, above all, it was displayed by a united team rather than individuals plowing their own furrows. It made for a compelling watch.
Seeing the training methods translate so easily into match situations so early in his tenure will have given the Dutchman comfort, despite his insistence on downplaying the significance of the result.
A 4-0 win over Liverpool in Bangkok won’t count for anything if United turn around when the sides meet in the Premier League at Old Trafford on August 22, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the positives were plentiful.
With a pre-season under a new manager focused primarily on physical and tactical conditioning and getting players to believe in your principles and philosophy, United players have scored well. Now, with the Australian leg of the tour coming up and with the Premier League season on the horizon, Ten Hag will demand consistency.
Sancho the answer to Man Utd’s problems right?
For so long, Manchester United have lacked balance due to a shortage of comfortable forwards on the attacking right.
The arrival of Jadon Sancho last season seemed to be the solution. But a disappointing start on his return to England eventually saw Sancho fall back to the left as Marcus Rashford struggled for form and fitness.
There has been talk of a move by Ajax right-winger Antony to fill the void, but Sancho’s promising first-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Liverpool could change the odds. United’s priorities in the transfer market.
It should be mentioned that it’s pre-season and Sancho was facing a weakened Liverpool defense with Jurgen Klopp preferring to start the game with his youngsters. But the 22-year-old seemed comfortable on that right side and was much more confident in his overall game.
This was evident when he opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a calm finish on one occasion where he had drifted down the left side. Fluency in the top three is likely to be a key part of United’s play under Ten Hag this season.
Sancho’s link-up game has been vastly improved and he combined well with Diogo Dalot overlapping from full-back – not an option that was always readily available to the England striker when playing on the right flank last season with Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Signing another right-back to rival Dalot will be key to ensuring anyone playing on the right wing has the tools to be a threat this season rather than isolated.
Ten Hag hopes Sancho can repeat and improve on this performance when games become competitive, as he has few other viable options on the right.
The Second Coming of Martial
Anthony Martial’s departure on loan to Sevilla in January was unanimous among the Manchester United faithful.
His exhilarating Manchester debut, backed by this superb solo goal against Liverpool, were a distant memory as he left for Spain.
Much like so many who donned the famous red shirt in the post-Ferguson years, an abundance of talent and potential failed to materialize at United consistently, and the consensus was that the time was right for the club. to cut their losses.
The decision appeared to be justified by the fact that Martial scored just one goal during his time at the La Liga club, as many as he managed in the first half of the season at Old Trafford.
At 26, Martial’s return to Manchester feels like a last-ditch saloon, a final opportunity to pay tribute to the trust the club has shown in him by recruiting him from Monaco. After seven years, the club is within its rights to demand a more constant return on its time and investment.
Luckily, Martial’s second coming might be better than the first. There were nuances of his iconic first United goal in 2015, with Liverpool once again the paper on which the Frenchman wrote the start of a new chapter in his career.
In signature Martial style, the striker drifted effortlessly into the Liverpool box before delicately picking up United’s third goal against Alisson Becker.
It was a finish, a goal, that evoked all the emotions of his very first time in United colours, only this time the patience he once enjoyed was replaced with a deadline to meet.
How did Malacia perform in its debut?
It was a tough first outing for Tyrell Malacia to show Manchester United fans what he is.
He came on as a half-time substitute as Ten Hag made 10 changes to his starting XI, calling on a mix of academy and squad players in humid conditions in Bangkok.
A lack of familiarity in United’s new squad slowed play in the second half but the Netherlands international still showed glimpses of his promise.
Ten Hag describes the 22-year-old as ‘the modern full-back’, while Malacia has promised to bring ‘good defence, assists and energy’ to United this season.
His arrival likely signals an exit for Alex Telles, who was used as a centre-back against Liverpool in the absence of injured Harry Maguire.
Telles struggled to convince in an unfamiliar position and was often bailed out by centre-back Eric Bailly, who was named man of the match on Manchester United’s website after an impressive return to the side.
Which youngsters have impressed Ten Hag?
There was a chance for some of United’s young players to show off their skills at Ten Hag in the second half.
Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo were all featured as the Dutchman made 10 changes.
Savage, son of Robbie, and Iqbal held firm in midfield against Liverpool, who for the final 30 minutes of half-time played what was almost a full-strength team. The duo made their senior debut together against Young Boys in the Champions League at Old Trafford last season under Ralf Rangnick and will be hoping for more first-team minutes under Ten Hag this season.
Iqbal, already a full international for Iraq, showcased his range of passing and dribbling while Savage produced a composed performance and kept the ball well.
Pellistri and Amad combined well for the fourth goal, finding a way through Andrew Robertson and Virgil van Dijk to put the game to bed. The Uruguayan had a touch of luck with his finish, with the ball coming off his heel before clipping the post on his way in.
Ten Hag is renowned for bloodying academy players after his Ajax record, which will buoy this latest batch of United hopes for the rest of the season.
Shola Shoretire and Alvaro Fernandez haven’t joined the squad for the pre-season tour as they are expected to leave on loan this season.
Meanwhile, Alejandro Garnacho, Hannibal Mejbri and Ethan Laird were unused substitutes in Bangkok. They are all sure to play a part in the remaining games.
No need for Liverpool to panic
Jurgen Klopp warned Liverpool supporters this week that they “have nothing to worry about” ahead of the new season – and a fresh perspective is needed after this result.
The German boss started a second-string team before making 10 changes after 30 minutes. Some would say the mass substitutions could have been a reaction to a 2-0 deficit, but that probably would have been the plan all along. How Liverpool failed to score in the 90 minutes after taking 18 shots is a mystery.
Liverpool heavy hitters Fabinho, Darwin Nunez, Andy Robertson, Thiago, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold have all been presented with 30 minutes to play. They improved during that spell as Salah hit a post and Nunez missed a keeper, but they conceded a disappointing fourth in which Eric Bailly was allowed to emerge unchallenged in midfield.
Nunez has brought presence up front and is ready to run behind which is different from what Firmino brings, who prefers to go deeper and let wingers run behind. The first signs were promising.
It was clear that Liverpool saw this match as little more than a fitness exercise for the benefit of their entire squad. Losing to your rivals by this scoreline always hurts, but Klopp and his team won’t dwell on it for long.
What’s next for Man Utd and Liverpool?
Manchester United’s pre-season tour takes them to Australia, where they will face Melbourne Victory in Melbourne on Friday at 11.05am, Crystal Palace in Melbourne on Tuesday at 11.10am and Aston Villa in Perth on July 23 at 10.45am.