Out with the old and in with the new (sort of!): Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho look totally transformed in Ten Hag’s free-flowing attack… Man United look a different beast to the final days of Solskjaer
- Early indications from pre-season are positive for Man United boss Erik ten Hag
- So far he has a tune out of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho
- Martial and Rashford in particular struggled badly prior to Ten Hag’s arrival
- His free-flowing attack suits the trio and it is stark contrast to previous regimes
Erik ten Hag’s arrival as Manchester United manager came with the caveats of a project, a job that will take several years to fix. Yet the early signs – including the friendly win against Crystal Palace in Melbourne – are good, not least in attack.
Standards. Those have been plain for all to see from the first day he walked into Carrington and shook the hand of every staff member he encountered – whether that was the employee in the club shop or some of his star players.
Ten Hag’s standards are notoriously high and Jadon Sancho learned quickly during the Thailand leg of this pre-season tour when the Dutchman took him to task over failing to pass to an overlapping full-back in a training drill.
‘I look to the player and I have a certain demand,’ Ten Hag explained later.
‘And I will tell them, if they have capabilities, but you have to invest. It is not just in terms of Jadon, it is for every player.
‘I will tell every player what I expect of them. I have high standards because you are here, you are playing for Manchester United, then you must bring every day on the pitch. That is an expectation I have.’
Anthony Martial (left) and Marcus Rashford (right) look transformed under boss Erik ten Hag
Jadon Sancho (left) is thriving under the Dutchman, who is putting the focus on wide players
Ten Hag is a stickler for discipline and that is helping to weed out some old habits in this group
Discipline on and off the pitch is of vital importance for Ten Hag and that is already translating in the early phases of play.
Anthony Martial, who appeared to be surplus to requirements in the final days of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and under Ralf Rangnick, looks completely reborn with newfound focus, Sancho is beginning to find the form that he dazzled with at Borussia Dortmund and Marcus Rashford is smiling again.
Sancho may only have one season at United under his belt since that move from Dortmund but the trio are a fascinating example of how Ten Hag has taken the old, spruced it up, and transformed them back to new.
Yes, it’s only pre-season. Yes, their opponents have put out teams that won’t likely, in those carnations, see minutes in the Premier League, but the early signs are undeniably good.
Martial – who scored United’s opener at the MCG – is a perfect case in point.
Rashford looks confident again wide on the left and he came inside to score in Melbourne
Rashford (right) knows a strong start this season can get him back in contention with England
The Frenchman mustered just one league goal for United last season – at home against Everton – before he was shipped out on loan to Sevilla where he was entirely forgettable.
In the eyes of many supporters, Martial was done for at Old Trafford. Forget his contract running to 2024, the expectation was that Ten Hag would want no part of a player that left previous managers, including Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, exasperated.
And yet the Frenchman has been the jewel in this tour for Ten Hag.
‘I’m sure he can come back even better,’ Ten Hag said recently of Martial, which is typical of a man who is rarely going to be satisfied.
‘I think when he has the right focus and the right motivation and he works hard he will have production because he is a good player.
‘I say when he has the right focus and every day delivers much then he will have production and it’s up to him.’
It’s up to him. Challenge. Gauntlet laid down. And so far Martial has been up for the challenge, scoring in all three games of the tour.
Last season he looked a shell of the player his skill can allow him to be in this United team
Martial (right) too looked to have faded into insignificance in recent years with Man United
With no Cristiano Ronaldo on the tour there was an understandable sense that Martial was, if anything, keeping the centre forward seat warm.
And yet the 26-year-old is beginning to make a case for starting minutes when the season gets underway against Brighton.
His link-up play with Rashford and Sancho in particular against Crystal Palace in Melbourne was sublime. The beauty with an attack consisting of those three players is that Ten Hag’s high-intensity style means the pace is always high and few can keep up with the speedy United attack.
It is the link-up play they are providing each other that appears in stark contrast to what was seen under Rangnick, and before then in the case of Martial and Rashford.
Take goals two and three against Palace – Martial was at the heart of both.
A brilliant take on his chest from Victor Lindelof’s long ball started the move for Donny van de Beek to tee up Rashford. Martial then slid a perfectly weighted pass through for Sancho to go get in on the act.
Martial is far and away the story of United’s pre-season tour but Rashford’s bounceback has him looking like a whole new player.
Rashford managed just five goals last season as his form and confidence completely collapsed. He lost his place with England and many have begun to count him out of Gareth Southgate’s plans for Qatar.
The Frenchman has thrived between Rashford and Sancho and Ten Hag is winning the plaudits
But back with a smile on his face and a spring in his step, Rashford is ready for an upturn in the upcoming season and that is down to Ten Hag.
‘It’s a fresh start, something I’m looking forward to,’ Rashford said prior to facing Melbourne Victory .
‘The first two-and-a-half weeks of training has been good. We’ve improved a lot and we’re a lot fitter than last season.
‘We have a lot of room for improvement. I’m in a good place right now. I’m looking forward to getting more games under my belt and getting ready for the season.’
Speaking at the start of July about Ten Hag specifically, he added: ‘It’s fresh ideas, fresh tactics and a new personality that has been added to the team.
‘I’m looking forward to working with him but also for to give ourselves time as well to fit into what he wants us and to really feel natural doing it.’
Sancho may be the most decisive player in Ten Hag’s system and the early signs are promising
And then there is Sancho, the final piece to this three-pronged pace machine Tern Hag has unleashed on this tour.
Look at United’s stats: Three games. Three wins. Eleven goals scored. Just two goals conceded.
Sancho has been an integral piece in each of those wins and Ten Hag is providing him a platform that Rangnick was unable to last season.
First thing that is obvious is that Sancho looks confident – and he’s playing like it, too.
Largely deployed out on the right – Sancho performed best last season out on the left – the former Dortmund winger is using his devastating pace to full effect and also has the quality final delivery that United missed on so many occasions last season.
Like Rashford he too is out of the England fold right now but is putting together a case if this pre-season form translates into the season.
Ten Hag’s system is heavily reliant on the wide players, giving them the platform to be the decisive pieces and Sancho can thrive on centre stage.
Three players who look totally transformed. It’s early days and it’s only pre-season but new-look United look a different beast.
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