8 players that Ten Hag has improved at Man Utd: Rashford, Fernandes…
Erik ten Hag’s impact at Manchester United can already be seen in a number of revitalised players at Old Trafford.
In particular, Ten Hag has improved plenty of the players that were at the club before he arrived, taking them to third place and claiming the scalps of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
He’s also beaten Barcelona and Real Betis in Europe and lifted the League Cup – United’s first piece of silverware since 2017.
He’s also been clever with his recruitment, bringing in charismatic players who can lift the rest of the squad and who will blend on the pitch with the team already established by the former Ajax manager.
Here are eight players that have improved under Ten Hag already.
Rashford, like many of his team-mates, endured a horrendous campaign under Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick last season.
Yet, after a flurry of early-season goals that saw him recalled to the England squad for the World Cup, the striker has been in ridiculous form throughout the early weeks of 2023; his 17 goals in 21 games make him the most prolific goalscorer in Europe.
“In this team, I think he is playing his best football,” Ten Hag said in January 2023. “He’s improving and that’s about him because he’s working on the good things.
“He’s giving 100 per cent energy in it, he has a good plan and I think also in this team he can bring in his qualities.”
Most impressively, Rashford responded to being dropped against Wolves for oversleeping by coming off the bench to score the winning goal; he’s definitely got his mojo back under the new manager.
Surely Rashford is a sure-fire candidate for Footballer of the Year.
OF COURSE IT HAS TO BE RASHFORD!!!!
VAR checks and the goal is given
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 12, 2023
Fernandes was brilliant two seasons ago, but lost his mojo under Ralf Ragnick and many felt he was sidelined by Cristiano Ronaldo.
No longer; the Portugal international is back to his buoyant best in United’s midfield and, despite his temper tantrum at Liverpool, is back to his best.
“I think last year was about the confidence,” he said after beating Nottingham Forest in the League Cup semi-finals.
“You win one game, you lost another one, you draw another one — you never get that run of victories that gave you the confidence to keep going and keep pushing yourself to do the best.
“We had a bad feeling that any moment of the game could go against us — a corner, a shot, some moment.
“The confidence was low and that creates uncertainty but obviously I think this season the main thing was the results. You get more confident.
“The idea of the manager is on the team, you can see it. The players that came to the club are also making a part of that but the ones that stayed are also playing and making a part of that too.”
While Garnacho was already a star for Manchester United’s youth side, it’s hard to deny that the forward has blossomed under Ten Hag this season.
He scored his first senior goal against Real Sociedad and made an exciting cameo during the League Cup triumph over Aston Villa in November, making himself a hero with the club’s supporters.
“It was good that he came on and showed that performance and had that impact in the game, to be able to assist, make the dribbles and run behind,” Ten Hag said after the win against Villa.
“There are some things he has to improve, for instance when we go long to go for the second balls. He still has things to learn but quite obviously we are happy with his development and he can contribute to the team.
“It depends on his approach, his attitude. When he keeps working then yes, it is possible (for him to play more). He wants to improve every day. He has to do the right things in his lifestyle. He has the capability.”
But arguably his biggest contribution to date was his assist for Rashford’s winner in the derby and matchwinner against West Ham in the FA Cup. He’s becoming a vital member of the United squad.
Many people, including us, thought Wan-Bissaka’s time at United was up after being left to grow cobwebs on the subs bench.
But the full-back has returned to starting XI in recent matches and looks a completely different player; his George Best-esque dribble against City caused thousands of jaws to drop inside Old Trafford.
READ: AWB’s magical dribble bought back memories of prime George Best
Shaw enjoyed an imperious 2020-21 season, followed by an excellent European Championship, but looked a shadow of that player during the last campaign.
And, when Ten Hag signed Tyrell Malacia, many expected Shaw to lose his starting spot and few were surprised when he was benched for August’s victory over Liverpool.
But the 27-year-old has fought hard to win Ten Hag’s trust and has regained his spot in the manager’s preferred XI, even starring at centre-back in some matches.
“He speaks to the players individually quite a lot and I think, from the start of pre-season, I could see what sort of manager he was going to be and I was extremely impressed with the way he came across, not just in terms of how he speaks to you, but his ideas of how he wants his team to set up,” Shaw told club media.
“His structure and the way he wants to play with the ball and without the ball – it was really impressive. Things obviously take time, but I think we’re going in the right direction and I think it could be a really good next few months because I feel like we’re taking the right steps.”
Varane did well enough during his first season at Old Trafford but injuries limited his impact as United stumbled to sixth place in 2021-22.
But, after being paired with the irrepressible Lisandro Martinez, the France international looked much improved as Ten Hag’s side recovered from their opening two defeats.
And Varane was straight back in the starting XI for the New Year’s Eve victory at Molineux, highlighting his importance to United. Don’t expect him to budge for the remainder of the campaign.
David de Gea
After an uneasy start to the season, De Gea has begun to blossom under Ten Hag and has produced a string of match-winning saves to keep United in the hunt for a Champions League return.
“So, everyone has their own opinion and their own philosophy,” Ten Hag said after beating West Ham. “For me, for a goalkeeper, you have to protect the goal and make sure you don’t concede goals. In that fact, he is magnificent.
“On the feet, for me, he has the capabilities as well. I think when you see this season, he is progressing from game to game on that part. And that has to do not only with the keeper.
“It has also to do with the ones in front, how you give the keeper the options to bring passes in, because when they don’t run free, or in the wrong moments, or in the wrong positions, then he doesn’t have the options to pass around.
“But I am convinced he can do it and I think the games so far prove that. I think he will improve from game to game on that part.”
He enjoyed a break this winter after being left out of Spain’s World Cup squad and Ten Hag will be keen to oversee his continued improvement.
READ: Ranking Man Utd’s 23 Premier League keepers from worst to best
Dalot was United’s first-choice right-back after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure as head coach last November, starting all 17 of his side’s matches before the World Cup, scoring once and providing two assists in the process.
And his development has accelerated under Ten Hag with a number of assured defensive performances.
The United boss called upon Dalot to continue his progress following his Man of the Match performance against West Ham in October.
“I hope he keeps progressing, so not only sticking to this level,” Ten Hag said. “Our approach, our philosophy is that good is not good enough. We have to do better,” Ten Hag told reporters.
“We’re happy with the development and the performances of Diogo so it’s quite clear.
“It’s heavy when you have to play every game but physically he’s got a really good profile and I’m sure he will keep going and he will keep developing. That is what we demand and I am confident he will do that.”
READ MORE: Revisiting the last Man Utd XI picked by Sir Alex Ferguson in May 2013
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