The issues facing Ten Hag as his Man United rebuild beginsTheSportsWig Admin
Manchester United jet off for the start of their preseason tour of Thailand and Australia on Friday as preparations crank up ahead of Erik ten Hag’s first season in charge.
The Dutchman has his dipped into the transfer market with the £13 million capture of left-back Tyrell Malacia from Feyenoord, while Christian Eriksen is expected to follow imminently as a free agent.
It has brought some positivity back to Old Trafford after an otherwise frustrating summer, but Ten Hag now has the chance to work with his players for nearly three weeks as he looks to put his stamp on the squad.
There are plenty of issues for Ten Hag to address while he’s away — particularly those surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has told United he wants to leave and the club don’t yet know whether he will be part of the tour after being excused from training this week because of “family reasons.”
Here, ESPN takes a look Ten Hag’s to-do list ahead of United’s summer trip.
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How strong is the squad?
Ten Hag has had two weeks at Carrington to get a first look at his players, but he will learn more during games against Liverpool, Melbourne Victory, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. The game against Liverpool in Bangkok on Tuesday, in particular, will give him a first-hand idea of the gap in quality with Jurgen Klopp’s side. Along with Manchester City, they are the benchmark. Ten Hag has stressed already that he believes this is still a strong squad after they finished second in the Premier League under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2020-21, and the tour will be the first chance to see whether that faith is well placed.
Can United cope without Ronaldo?
Ronaldo’s future is now the single biggest issue facing Ten Hag, having made it clear to the club that he wants to go, while United are insisting he’s not available for transfer but at some point, something has to give.
The key question for Ten Hag is whether he needs Ronaldo. The 37-year-old scored 24 times last season, but it’s likely Ten Hag would have to adapt his style of play to get the best out of the Portuguese star. Agreeing to let Ronaldo leave risks removing a key source of goals that would need to come from somewhere else, but it might give Ten Hag more tactical freedom to play the way he wants.
What is Rashford’s best position?
This is linked to Ronaldo. Marcus Rashford would prefer to play on the left of a front three, but if Ronaldo leaves he could be pressed into action at centre forward. Mason Greenwood remains suspended by the club and Edinson Cavani has gone, leaving just Rashford and Anthony Martial as the only other recognised strikers in the squad. Both have had campaigns where they’ve scored 20-plus goals but Rashford only managed five last season while Martial is returning from a disappointing loan spell at Sevilla.
Does Martial have a future?
To complicate matters further, Martial’s future is also up in the air. United have been open to offers for the Frenchman for most of the summer but haven’t received a serious bid and with two years left on his contract, he looks set to stay. At his best, Martial has the skill, movement and finishing ability to be a devastating centre forward, but Ten Hag will first have to find a way of keeping him motivated and interested.
Which players could leave?
Martial’s future looks uncertain, but he isn’t alone. Alex Telles, Axel Tuanzebe, Eric Bailly, Brandon Williams, Phil Jones and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are all likely to make the preseason trip, but there remain doubts about whether they will all be United players by the time the transfer window closes on Sept. 1. Ten Hag won’t be able to let all of them leave ahead of a campaign in the Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup, but there also won’t be enough opportunities for everyone. It’s also important United generate money through outgoings to boost their summer budget.
Who should be United’s next captain?
Who wears the armband might seem trivial, but it caused problems last season and needs to be addressed. The power struggle between Harry Maguire and Ronaldo caused divisions in the dressing room, and they will need to be patched up during the trip to Thailand and Australia. Sources have told ESPN that Maguire has been happy with the conversations he has had with Ten Hag, but the easiest thing for the Dutchman might be to put the captaincy to a vote among the players.
Which youngsters are ready to step up?
A number of academy players are expected to be on the flight to Bangkok on Friday and Ten Hag will have to decide who will stay with the youth teams next season, who can go out on loan and who should be part of the first-team squad. Winger Alejandro Garnacho should get a chance to impress after leading the under-18s to Youth Cup success last season, while midfielder James Garner, still only 21, is back at the club after helping Nottingham Forest win promotion to the Premier League through the playoffs.