Manchester United make dream start against Liverpool’s mixed pack | friendships

If evolution is the realistic endgame in the early stages of Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United project, a whopping 3-0 lead at half-time against Liverpool in Bangkok meant the sentiment in that opening game of the Dutchman’s tenure was closer to revolution .

It’s not a matter of course. And that’s unlikely to come true unless Ten Hag possesses the kind of management magic that Jurgen Klopp, who changes his 10 outfield players every half hour, possesses, and Pep Guardiola. This was also Liverpool’s first pre-season game and the German players were immature and lethargic in front of goal, where United topped a fine 4-0 win.

The manager gave a realistic assessment. “We’re happy today because I think it was a team [ours] with a great spirit and we know we’re just starting out and things have gone wrong,” said Ten Hag. “We made some mistakes in pressing – believe me, I saw a lot of mistakes. We allowed a few chances, but also created many. Our team played courageously, played proactively. We have to work really hard to avoid the mistakes, but we’re happy with the first game.”

In a stuffy but not sold-out Rajamangala stadium, it all worked out like a dream for Ten Hag as each of United’s four goals offered hope for a brighter future, even if the rear guard always remains close to the latest farce.

Example: A raid down the right-back corridor by Isaac Mabaya left Luke Shaw nowhere and had to be stabbed away by David de Gea. Another: Tyler Morton on the opposite flank ran down the left and pinged in a ball that De Gea scraped before Bruno Fernandes cleared.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is trying to stop Manchester United new signing Tyrell Malacia.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is trying to stop Manchester United new signing Tyrell Malacia. Photo: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

Each of these was a short break. United’s build, although smoother than last season, was closer to the geometric variation Guardiola executes on Manchester City and when they scored it was as precise as Ten Hag would have liked.

Jadon Sancho found Anthony Martial feeding Scott McTominay who recycled the ball. Fernandes dunked a diagonal, Mabaya hammered his clearance and Sancho finished what he had started and sped past Alisson.

Given that the back four featured Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Victor Lindelöf and Luke Shaw with the same two defenders in front of McTominay and Fred in the first half, the sense of how porous this unit was was definitely surprising. Fábio Carvalho and Luis Díaz each came close in an odd red-shirt montage with a powder-puffy header from McTominay, only the goal frame prevented an equaliser.

United’s line-up could have come from any outing last season, which preceded Martial’s January loan and missed Cristiano Ronaldo, who is not on tour. That retro feel is hardly what Ten Hag desires, but since only Tyrell Malacia was recruited, his choice fell on Hobson. On top of that, the 52-year-old got his first glimpse of a band that failed miserably as they fell 35 points behind City, with only confirmed captain Harry Maguire missing by a stroke.

Monday night’s practice here had been instructive. Ten Hag was relentless when it came to drilling players, whether it was an oversized rondo involving the center circle, a small-sided game, or a full-fledged attack-defense battle. Perhaps this is what caused Varane and Lindelöf to stand at Liverpool’s 18-yard line when Fred lost the ball after some early Sancho tricks: this is the highest of all high presses.

Bruno Fernandes and Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with the trophy for beating Liverpool.
Bruno Fernandes and Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with the trophy for beating Liverpool. Photo: Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters

Sancho was United’s strongest player. A behind-the-ankle trap with his other foot drew “Oohs!” as did the subsequent cross, though McTominay failed to make two. Fred capped off another impressive sequence. These included McTominay, Fernandes and Sancho, who fired the ball into the box. Martial was thwarted by Joe Gomez, but when possession splattered to Fred, he lavishly chipped Alisson.

It arrived at half hour. Klopp had made his first 10 changes and it backfired immediately when the new team (Bar Alisson) was caught off guard. Rhys Williams was stolen from by Martial and as the keeper advanced he was hit again by a United chip.

In the second half, Ten Hag changed his 10 outfield players (Klopp swapped Alisson for Adrián), this configuration with a midfielder in Donny van de Beek as a false 9; Alex Telles, a left-back at centre-back; and debutant left-back Malacia in his rightful position. Malacia showed a razor-sharp way of pinching the ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Klopp’s last line-up was Andy Robertson, Trent
Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Thiago Alcântara, Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez, making this a certifiable A-Team. But it was a youngster, Tom Hill, who ambushed Eric Bailly and attempted to tee off Thiago before the Ivorian jabbed the ball away.

Núñez’s contribution was to elicit a save from Tom Heaton and squander a late chance, but while Liverpool threw United in the end and Salah was close, their overall record was ‘muted’.

“,”caption”:”The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.”,”isTracking”:false,”isMainMedia”:false,”source”:”The Guardian”,”sourceDomain”:””}”>

The Fiver: Sign up and receive our daily football email.

Not so for Ten Hag and his men: their fourth came through Bailly’s stunning footwork that put the centre-back in the opposition half. Facundo Pellistri took over, swapped passes with Amad Diallo and ended the game.

But as the new No. 1 noted, this is only the smallest of beginnings. “Liverpool play in three teams,” said Ten Hag. “They weren’t at their best so we mustn’t overstate this result. We have to be careful. But still I’ve seen some really good things and what you see is we have a lot of creativity and speed on offense so we have potential.”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: