After Manchester United thrashed rivals Liverpool 4-0 in Bangkok, Sky Sports analyses Erik ten Hag’s debut, how his players adapted to his methods, and what the performance said about the season ahead…
Ten Hag methods already bearing fruit
Even before Manchester United’s three-goal first-half flurry, it was clear the tenets Erik ten Hag had been meticulously drilling into his players throughout pre-season – sharper reaction, surety in transition, confidence on the ball and cohesion without it – had been taken onboard.
There was a zip to Manchester United’s play, a hunger to their pressing but, crucially, this was displayed by a united team rather than individuals ploughing their own furrows. It made for a compelling watch.
To see training methods translate so seamlessly into match situations so soon into his tenure will have heartened the Dutchman, despite his insistence on downplaying the significance of the result.
A 4-0 victory over Liverpool in Bangkok will count for nothing if United roll over when the sides meet in the Premier League at Old Trafford on August 22, but that doesn’t take away from the fact the positives were plentiful.
With pre-season under a new manager focused predominantly on physical and tactical conditioning and getting players to believe in your principles and philosophy, United’s players scored well. Now, with the Australian leg of the tour to come, and with the Premier League season on the horizon, Ten Hag will demand consistency.
Sancho the answer to Man Utd problems on the right?
For so long, Manchester United have lacked balance due to a shortage of forwards comfortable playing on the right of attack.
The arrival of Jadon Sancho last season appeared to be the solution. But an underwhelming start on his return to England eventually saw Sancho shifted back to the left as Marcus Rashford struggled for form and fitness.
There has been talk of a move for Ajax’s right-sided forward Antony to fill the void, but Sancho’s promising first-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Liverpool may alter United’s priorities in the transfer market.
It must be mentioned that this is pre-season and Sancho was up against a weakened Liverpool defence, with Jurgen Klopp preferring to start the game with his youngsters. But the 22-year-old looked comfortable on that right-hand side and was far more confident in his overall play.
That was evident when he opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a composed finish on an occasion when he had drifted over to the left-hand side. Fluidity in the front three is likely to be a key part of United’s play under Ten Hag this season.
Sancho’s link-up play was largely improved and he was combining well with Diogo Dalot overlapping from full-back – not an option that was always readily available to the England forward when playing on the right flank last season with Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Signing another right-back to compete with Dalot will be key to ensuring whoever plays on the right wing has the tools to be a threat this season rather than becoming isolated.
Ten Hag will hope Sancho can repeat and improve on this performance when the games become competitive, because he has few other viable options on the right.
Martial’s second coming
Anthony Martial’s departure on loan to Sevilla in January was met with unanimous agreement among the Manchester United faithful.
His heady early days in Manchester, underpinned by that stunning solo goal against Liverpool, were nothing but a distant memory as he set off for Spain.
Just like so many who had donned the famous red shirt in the post-Ferguson years, an abundance of talent and potential failed to come to fruition at United on a consistent basis, and the consensus was the time had come for the club to cut their losses.
The decision appeared to be vindicated by Martial scoring just a single goal during his time at the La Liga club, as many as he had managed in the first half of the season at Old Trafford.
At the age of 26, Martial’s return to Manchester has the feel of the last-chance saloon, a final opportunity to repay the faith the club showed when signing him from Monaco. After seven years the club are within their rights to demand a more consistent return on their time and investment.
Thankfully, Martial’s second coming could be better than his first. There were shades 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 trademark Martial style, the forward effortlessly drifted into the Liverpool area before delicately lifting United’s third goal over Alisson Becker.
It was a finish, a goal, that invoked all the emotions of his very first in United colours, only this time the patience he once enjoyed has been replaced with a deadline to deliver.
How did Malacia fare on his debut?
It was a tough first outing for Tyrell Malacia to show what he’s all about to Manchester United fans.
He came on at half-time as Ten Hag made 10 changes to his starting XI, bringing on a mixture of academy and squad players in humid conditions in Bangkok.
A lack of familiarity in the new-look United side slowed down 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 promised to bring good “defending, 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 the injured Harry Maguire.
Telles struggled to convince in an unfamiliar position and was often bailed out by centre-back partner Eric Bailly, who was named man of the match on the Manchester United website after an impressive return to the side.
Which youngsters impressed Ten Hag?
There was a chance for some of United’s younger players to showcase their talent to Ten Hag in the second half.
Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo were all introduced as the Dutchman made 10 changes.
Savage, son of Robbie, and Iqbal held their own in midfield against Liverpool, who for the final 30 minutes of the half played what was almost a full strength team. The duo made their senior debuts together against Young Boys in the Champions League at Old Trafford last season under Ralf Rangnick and will be hoping to get more first-team minutes under Ten Hag this season.
Iqbal, already a full international for Iraq, showcased his range of passes and dribbling skills while Savage produced a composed performance, and kept hold of possession 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 was a touch fortunate with his finish, with the ball coming off his heel before clipping the post on its way in.
Ten Hag is renowned for blooding academy players following his record at Ajax, which will give this latest batch of United hopefuls encouragement for the rest of the season.
Shola Shoretire and Alvaro Fernandez did not join the squad for the pre-season tour, as they are reportedly 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 role in the remaining games.
What’s next for Man Utd & Liverpool?
Manchester United’s pre-season tour takes them to Australia, where they 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.