Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright has questioned the impact of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, believing the players have regressed since the Dutchman took charge.
Ten Hag came in at the start of the 2022/23 season, replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent Man Utd manager via an interim spell in charge for Ralf Rangnick. In his first season in charge, Ten Hag led Man Utd to glory in the EFL Cup and reached the FA Cup final, as well as securing a return to the Champions League.
This season was supposed to be the time for Ten Hag’s Man Utd to step up, but they haven’t done that at all. The Red Devils finished bottom of their Champions League group, even failing to qualify for the Europa League, were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the fourth round and sit seventh in the Premier League. They’ve won just 10 of their 21 league matches, losing nine, including some humiliating defeats.
A lot of their stars are underperforming, and Wright believes Ten Hag has to take some blame for that.
“Yes, because none of the players since he’s been there have improved,” Wright told Premier League Productions when asked if a cultural problem is hampering Man Utd’s players.
“You can look at [Aston] Villa players, he [Unai Emery] came after Stevie [Gerrard]. Look at the Tottenham players after [Antonio] Conte, these players have improved with the coaching they’re getting.
“Man United players are not improving. In actual fact they are getting worse.”
Wright then singled out Marcus Rashford as a player who looks completely different this season, far from the star he was destined to be just a few years ago.
He added: “I watched Rashford the other day, it looks like his decision making, whatever his decision making, it’s off, he scored a beautiful goal, but it’s off.
“I think you look at Man United, it’s pure and simple, I think it’s great Sir Jim [Ratcliffe] is coming in, he looks like he’s very much a massive supporter, he wants to make change because obviously being a fan as well. He could’ve done so many other things, but he’s come in because he wants to put it right. I think if he gets those people… it comes down to the structure on the pitch and the coach [Ten Hag], is that coach good enough?”
This season, Rashford has been directly involved in nine goals in 26 games across all competitions, scoring four and providing five assists. All four of those goals have come in the Premier League, including two in his past two – ending a six-game drought in the Premier League. There was another seven-game drought between his strike against Arsenal in September and goal vs Everton in November, showing that something is up this season.
But is it a Ten Hag problem? Last season Rashford was directly involved in 22 goals for Man Utd in the Premier League, scoring and providing five assists. Only seven players in the Premier League were directly involved in more goals last season, while Rashford was six clear of his closest teammate (Bruno Fernandes). Across all competitions, he had his best scoring campaign, netting 30 goals in total. You can’t even point to a change in role this season, as Rashford has played predominantly on the left wing since Ten Hag took charge.
He has kept his knack for scoring in big games too, netting in wins over Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea, and had a goal and assist in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham last season. This season it’s a goal in the defeat vs Arsenal, and goal against Tottenham at the weekend. When he first came through under Louis van Gaal, Rashford’s calling card became scoring in big games at key moments, and it’s something that has followed him throughout his career.
Excluding short caretaker spells, Rashford has played under five different managers at Man Utd, ranging from the 18 games under Van Gaal to 135 with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm. Solskjaer got the best out of Rashford overall with 81 goal involvements in 135 games, averaging 0.6 per match. That’s only just more than Rashford’s current spell under Ten Hag, which rounds out to 0.59 per game. His worst manager, unsurprisingly, was Ralf Rangnick who got just three goal involvements in 22 games, as Man Utd as a whole looked so far from their best.
It was under Solskjaer in 2019/20 that Rashford had his best Premier League season with seven assists to go with 17 goals, and again the Englishman was playing predominantly on the left wing. That season saw Rashford score twice against Chelsea and Tottenham, and one against Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League, helping Man Utd to 10 points in those particular matches.
Of course, there have been some off-field issues which included partying after Man Utd’s 3-0 defeat to Man City — Rashford released an apology but was dropped for the Red Devils’ next match against Fulham. In recent weeks, there have been signs of Rashford returning to form, just lacking the end product. But could it be back now with goals in consecutive Premier League games?