No. 2 UNITED vs. LIVERPOOL, JULY 12th 2022


Five left backs but still no holding midfielder

It’s better to be safe than sorry, but the signing of Tyrell Malacia means that Manchester United will now have five left backs at their disposal and yet still not one specialist defensive midfielder.

Malacia is a fantastic player and is being acquired for a bargain price. No complaints there. And United finally appear to have a signing. No complaints there either. But despite Luke Shaw’s inconsistencies, Alex Telles’ struggles and Alvaro Fernandez probably still being too green around the gills, do we really need five players in the same position? Given that Brandon Williams is not a bad backup either? Diogo Dalot can also play on that flank as well so you could argue we’ve now got six players capable of filling the role.

At the time of writing, United are chasing centre backs, right wingers and attacking midfielders (Christian Eriksen incoming). There isn’t even a whiff of interest in a defensive midfielder – a position in which the club has no staff at all since Nemanja Matic left.

Declan Rice is too expensive, they say. N’Golo Kanté, too old. Others have been snapped up by other clubs already. Why was it not United’s priority from the start?

We are told that John Murtough and co. want to get the Frenkie de Jong deal over the line before they start looking at other positions. The story goes that the final cost of De Jong will determine how much is left to strengthen in other positions.

The holding midfield signing shouldn’t be the pair of socks you buy with the change you’ve got left over after buying a suit, though, should it?

And how long are we going to spend trying the suit on and haggling with the tailor over the price? Are we destined for another summer of discontent? Fabregas. Ronaldinho. Sancho. Haaland. Ramos. Sneijder. Thiago. Hazard. Essien. We’d all signed all of them in our minds.

Meanwhile, there’s not a soul to protect the defence and we could be looking at another season of McFred, or McBeek, or Van de Fred.

What will perfectionist Erik ten Hag be making of the circus? Can he patch up some of the old torn suits he’s found in his new wardrobe, take them to the dry cleaners and get them looking like new again? It might be his best hope of not looking like a tramp.

Other than the obvious – Erik’s first match in charge against old rivals Liverpool – these questions form the basis of the theme of this issue, as we look at how the Dutchman is going about his business and how the transfer policy is unfolding.

It could all be coming together, but it’s fair to say at this stage, the jury is out.


The perfectionist vs. chaos

How Erik ten Hag plans to repair a broken club

You wouldn’t need to be Nostradamus to take a punt on the kind of headlines Manchester United fans will be reading during the upcoming season.

“Reds Stars Baffled by ‘Control Freak’ Ten Hag!”
“Draining Sessions – United Struggling Under ‘Unreasonable’ Erik”
“Ten Bags?! EtH Blasts Shaw’s Latest ‘Crisps ‘n’ Revels’ Binge”.

After the ‘good vibes only’ of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was perhaps inevitable that snapping the current crop of United stars out of their easy-going mindset would be a huge challenge.

Standards had been slipping for years and there seemed to be few, if any, consequences for poor performances. Mediocrity wasn’t just tolerated – it had become the norm.

Dragging United into the modern era proved a bridge too far for Ralf Rangnick, who failed to win over the hearts and minds of the dressing room and ended up looking like the only person on the Titanic trying to be heard shouting ‘iceberg’ over the sounds of popping corks.

Erik ten Hag will need to reverse this sense of atrophy and acceptance and stories of his time at FC Utrecht provide clues about what his new charges should expect.  

During his early days with the Dutch minnows, it’s said that training games were constantly interrupted by the peep of a whistle as the new coach interrupted the flow of play to highlight a minor instruction not being followed.

Training sessions could last for hours and players complained of feeling mentally drained by what seemed an overbearing level of micromanagement.

Then, as his methods became ingrained, the whistles receded and his obsessive attention to detail started to yield results.
Former-keeper Robbin Ruiter said, “We’d come from a coach who gave us a lot of freedom and a lot of fun – laughing and joking around – and we went to a coach like Erik who was putting us through three hours on the pitch where you don’t think you’re doing much.”

Ruiter’s observations share almost uncanny parallels with the indulged group of princelings who plumbed the depths to deliver arguably United’s worst season since the Premier League began.

So, what does the latest manager to occupy the Old Trafford hot seat expect from his teams?

Apart from 15mm grass pitches, he’s going to demand quick, one-touch football. Defenders will be expected to build out from the back, all players will be expected to be confident on the ball and able to switch positions.

Pass and move will be the order of the day, with attackers constantly looking to occupy spaces and make dangerous runs. It will be front-foot, intense and proactive.

It seems a world away from the ‘Express yourselves!’ limitations of Ole-ball. Which begs the question, is this group capable of rising to the challenge?

The first thing Ten Hag will see is that his best keeper, David de Dea, is average with his feet and often rooted to his line. The Spaniard is 32 in November, so is probably beyond remoulding.

His full-backs will need to improve their fitness and output if they’re going to provide enough width and penetration to pin opposition defences back. On the right side, only Diogo Dalot has the technique to be an asset in the opponents’ half.

Crucially, attackers will need to shake off the lethargy of seasons past to impose themselves on centre backs and lead from the front.

Nothing we’ve previously seen from the likes of Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo, or the statuesque Antony Martial, inspires confidence in their ability to harass opponents and chase lost causes.  

In defence, can Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane be made to feel comfortable in a high line? If not, does the current captain get dropped to the bench? And, if so, could he remain captain from the sidelines?

Then there’s United’s ground zero – the midfield. Could Bruno Fernandes be coached to rein in the risk-taking and offer more control? Do Scott McTominay and Fred have hidden technical abilities that could see them revitalised under a new manager. It feels like blind hope more than expectation.

Question marks plague the entire squad and they won’t all be answered by dipping into the transfer market. To an extent, Ten Hag will need to work with what he’s got.

However, while here are sensible reservations over most positions, the former Ajax coach’s biggest challenge will be to change the mindset and, with that, the culture.

If he can’t get this pampered bunch of underachievers to buy into his methods, individual personnel will mean little. History tells us that, when pressure is applied, this group will drip feed negativity to the press and switch the focus from themselves to the failings of the manager.

If he can win the battle for hearts and minds, he stands a chance. Everyone, at every level of the club, needs to heed the words of the last great boss and stand by the manager. Only then will the Dutchman have a fighting chance of becoming the club’s next great boss.

Scott Eckersley

Meet the opposition: LIVERPOOL

How will Jurgen Klopp’s side bounce back from league and European heartbreak?

Meet the opposition: LIVERPOOL

How will Jurgen Klopp’s side bounce back from league and European heartbreak?


Jurgen Klopp has faced ten Hag on two occasions, with two 1-0 victories in the 2019 Champions League group stage against Ajax. The German also enjoyed historic successes over United in both Premier League matches last term and the motivation for the both the players and the new boss should be huge.

One to watch: CALVIN RAMSAY

Calvin Ramsay recently completed a £6.5m move to Anfield and will be looking to prove himself a genuine competitor for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s right back spot. The teenager provided 4 assists in 22 games in the Scottish Premier League and was on the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs before Liverpool snatched him up from Aberdeen.
(photo: Twitter.com)

The Venue

The Rajamangala Stadium will play host to what promises to be an unusually fierce preseason encounter. Manchester United’s visit to play the Thailand national team back in 2001 remains the attendance record for the stadium to this day at 65,000. Always assured of a huge following when travelling east, the Red Devils will be hoping for another win in Bangkok.


Darwin Nunez will be available for Liverpool having reported to training in the first week of July, following his mammoth move from Benfica. The Red Devils opted against the Uruguayan due to concerns over his huge price tag in light of the work that needs to be done on the rest of the squad, however many United fans will be hoping the forward does not show that to be a mistake on Tuesday.

interesting stats

United and Liverpool have met 14 times at neutral venues and United edge it, with five wins to four. United have four neutral ground FA Cup victories and two draws, Liverpool have two League Cup wins and there have been five Community Shield encounters evenly shared. In the only ever friendly between the two teams played on a neutral ground, Liverpool triumphed 4-1 in 2018 in Michigan with a debut goal from Xherdan Shaqiri and others from Mané, Ojo and Sturridge. Andreas Pereira scored United's consolation.


Liverpool returned for preseason training only on 4th July, although those who spent time on international duty are likely to have extra time off. This is likely to leave some Nations League stars undercooked for the encounter, with Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Diogo Jota among them. With Brazil’s game against Argentina called off, it remains to be seen if Firmino and Fabinho link up with the squad earlier than planned or not.

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Number 2 Liverpool Preview
July 12, 2022


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