How Manchester United's last 7 days have showed exactly what Erik ten Hag is bringing to the club
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The last week has seen Manchester United face up against three top Premier League sides and whilst they only came out with one victory, there haven't been clearer signs of progress in years.
Erik ten Hag was brought to the club in the summer with the idea that he is the man to bring success back to Old Trafford and break the Liverpool-Manchester City dominance seen in England over the last six years.
“In this moment, I admire them both, but you will always see an era can come to an end and I am looking forward to battling with them," the Dutchman declared whilst in his opening press conference for the club in May.
A positive feeling following a successful pre-season was blasted wide open with toxicity and concern just seven days into the Premier League season as United lost in what can only be described as embarrassing fashion to both Brighton and Brentford, which left them rock bottom of the table and pressure was already mounting on the new Dutch manager amongst different media outlets.
Fast forward to today and United are fifth and just one and three points behind Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the places above them — two teams that Ten Hag's men have completed outplayed in the last week, too.
It is an understatement to say that the work that United's manager has done since the dreadful beginning to the season has been good.
He has lost just once in the league since then (against an inhuman City outfit) and has played against the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle.
Getting the points on the board were important, but in the last week we have seen developments in the style of football that couldn't have been expected just four months into Ten Hag's rebuild.
Newcastle, Spurs, Chelsea. With just two days rest in between each game. It was, and will be, one of the most difficult weeks of football that The Reds will undergo this season.
With just five points to show from the fixtures, it might not seem like it was hugely successful, but there are countless positives to take from these football matches.
It would be easier to explain what United didn't show in these games. Ruthlessness. Domination in the games were not rewarded due to a lack of cutting edge in the final third; even Fred's opener against Antonio Conte's side came from a fortunate deflection which had the seemingly unstoppable Hugo Lloris rooted to his spot.
However, just because it hasn't quite clicked at the top doesn't mean that these performances were anything other than dominant from Ten Hag's men. In fact, the win against Conte's side might've been the club's best performance in a single game since the great Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down from the Old Trafford throne.
We saw United sustain pressure against these opponents like we haven't seen in recent years. A suffocating press was on display where you could see the team working together to turnover possession.
If that didn't work, then fans would rejoice at the sight of a fully functioning defensive transition and rest defence. United looked comfortable out of possession in all of these games, with just one goal conceded; through the penalty spot.
In possession, the different variations to break the opposition press were encouraging. Whether it be from a switch from right to left, triangles on either side or a bounce pass into one of the forward players; Ten Hag's men looked so comfortable moving the ball forward.
Lisandro Martinez already looks like one of the best signings in recent history for the club. Whether he's firing passes into his forward players or shutting down the opposition's front men, his level has been outstanding.
The addition of Antony on the right hand side has allowed the team to set up nicely in attacking phases, with the Brazilian holding width as we often see Diogo Dalot drift into the half-space. United's spacing across the line in offence might need some work, but the positive signs are well and truly there.
In all of the last three games for the club, we have seen these different developments within the team that would've been expected to come towards the end of the campaign, or perhaps not until next season.
United have been playing like a top class team both in and out of possession. Next, they have to sustain it and bring additional threat in the final third.
The lack of a real striker has been the clear and obvious reason behind United's goalscoring struggles. Anthony Martial's fitness must be of huge importance to the Dutch manager, however, there are still different issues throughout the attacking plan.
We are still seeing excited shots from distance from the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Fred that need to be played once more to a player in space. If the team can start playing that extra pass, then we could start seeing a higher level of chance land for the likes of Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Antony.
With there being so much to take from the latest fixtures involving Manchester United, the most important seems to be that it is exciting to watch.
It's not the counter-attacking masterclasses that we saw during the good times under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, or the defensive masterclasses that we saw under Jose Mourinho, but some of the most well-rounded play that we've seen in other top football clubs in recent years.
And with the positives on the pitch, we mustn't forgot the way in which the United boss has dealt with manners off the field, in particular the difficult situation of Cristiano Ronaldo.
You cannot fault a single aspect of the way that he has handled the Portuguese's attempt at rocking the ship on Wednesday. It was an example that Ten Hag is not only tactically astute, but also knows how to stamp his authority on the whole football club.
The job at Old Trafford is still an awfully difficult task, but Erik ten Hag has quickly proven that he's equipped and prepared for the journey.