Erik ten Hag’s stuck with Man Utd flops who lost to Brighton, so how does he get Ronaldo & Co firing against Brentford?
ERIK TEN HAG’S first match in charge of Manchester United did not go according to plan.
The Dutchman left Ajax as soon as last season ended so he could get working on the Red Devils squad as quickly as possible.
But if the 2-1 defeat to Brighton was anything to go by, his grand plans have not yet become a reality.
United were just as open and easy to play through as they were under Ralf Rangnick and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There was next to no improvement from last season when the club slumped to their worst ever Premier League points total.
Now, less than two months into his time at the club, Ten Hag faces his first major challenge to galvanise the players as they prepare to take on Brentford.
But what can he do different?
Well, he does not have any new players to choose from after another farcical week in the transfer market.
A shock bid for Bologna forward Marko Arnautovic was rejected last Sunday, before United then pulled out of negotiations following a backlash from disillusioned fans.
They have also been going after bad boy Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot – another questionable move given his inconsistent form for club and country.
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Yet despite Juventus accepting a £15million fee rising to £20m, United have still been unable to agree personal terms with the Frenchman.
As a result, Ten Hag has been left with the exact same set of players that lost to Brighton six days ago.
But that does not mean he will line up with the same team – far from it.
Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to return after being benched last weekend.
The Portuguese superstar played just 45 minutes in pre-season as speculation over a possible exit from the club rumbled on.
And while his future remains up in the air, his substitute appearance against Brighton and a week of “hard work” on the training ground is set to see him replace Christian Eriksen at the head of United’s attack.
At the other end of the pitch, club legend Rio Ferdinand has called for Lisandro Martinez to be employed in central midfield, with Raphael Varane coming back in to partner captain Harry Maguire.
He then wants Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes either side of Martinez in a midfield three – a move which would see both Scott McTominay and Fred dropped.
But that does seem an unlikely formation, particularly when you consider Martinez has not played a competitive game in midfield since January 2020.
Alternatively, Ten Hag could still divert from the McFred midfield pairing by playing Eriksen and Donny van de Beek either side of the Brazilian.
Other changes could see new boy Tyrell Malacia come in for Luke Shaw at left-back.
And then up front, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho will be hoping they can keep their places on the flanks.
But both are in danger of being dropped after poor displays against Brighton.
Rashford is the more likely to miss out as Fernandes could be preferred to him on the left – depending how the midfield shapes up.
Regardless of the starting XI, United know they face a tough task travelling to the Brentford Community Stadium.
Thomas Frank’s men showed tremendous grit and determination to battle back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Leicester at the King Power Stadium last weekend.
Along with champions Manchester City, United were the only other top six side to do the double over Brentford last season.
The Bees produced some stellar performances against the tougher opposition – beating Arsenal and Chelsea on their way to Premier League survival.
And the pressure is on United to get off the mark after the Brighton embarrassment… or else Ten Hag could find himself feeling the heat before August’s out.