‘There is life in Ten Hag yet as Man Utd manager’

Erik ten Hag’s future as Manchester United manager was never going to be definitively shaped by one game but even the taciturn Dutchman must have known how much was riding on the FA Cup quarter-final meeting with Liverpool at Old Trafford.

A defeat would have only hardened belief that Ten Hag is not the right fit to take United forward within the revamped football structure being assembled by new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

A win might just be enough to persuade the rulers inside Old Trafford’s hierarchy that Ten Hag is their man.

And what a win it was after a head-spinning game overflowing with the ingredients Old Trafford loves. Manchester United’s 4-3 victory was sealed in the dying seconds of extra time in front of the Stretford End. Just like old times.

This was the biggest and most spectacular result of Ten Hag’s United career – and may just be the result that gives him a long-term future at Old Trafford.

If United had lost then the noise surrounding him would have been deafening. Old Trafford instead rocked to the noise of the biggest celebrations the self-styled “Theatre Of Dreams” has witnessed in years.

Will it be a game-changer for Ten Hag? Only time will tell, but a victory of such significance will not do him any harm as Ratcliffe plots United’s route forward.

Ten Hag’s predecessors know what a defeat to Liverpool can do. Jose Mourinho was sacked after losing at Anfield in December 2018, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job in November 2021 – a month after a 5-0 thrashing against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

It was only a couple of weeks ago Ratcliffe issued a Sir Alex Ferguson-style mission statement that his aim was to eventually knock Liverpool and Manchester City off their perch. It was fighting talk, but at least what United fans wanted to hear as they live in the giant shadow cast by those two footballing superpowers.

In reality, this astonishing win – in a cup tie that will be treasured as a classic – does not even give the perch a shake. But Old Trafford has waited a long time to savour scenes like those that unfolded when Amad Diallo rolled the winner past Liverpool keeper Caomhin Kelleher at the Stretford End in the dying seconds.

It set up a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final, where United will be heavy favourites against Championship Coventry City, and gives Ten Hag the chance of a trophy that would be tangible proof of his belief that, for all the ups and downs of this mixed season, he is on the right track.

This was a day when Manchester United rediscovered the spirit of old – and all the charges levelled against Ten Hag and his players this season were answered, for 120 minutes at least.

United were heavily criticised, unfairly in my book, in some quarters for mounting a rearguard action to earn a point in a goalless draw at Anfield earlier this season. It was certainly against their traditional philosophies but it was a case of needs must.

Here they went on the attack, took an early lead through Scott McTominay but saw well-chronicled frailties return as Alexis Mac Allister and Mohamed Salah struck within two minutes of each other on the stroke of half-time to put Liverpool in front.

United have been accused of lacking character and any strength in adversity this season, but they answered that by hanging in for Antony’s 87th-minute equaliser. And they did it again after Marcus Rashford somehow shot wide with the goal at his mercy in the last action of normal time.

Harvey Elliott restored Liverpool’s lead in extra time but still United never let their heads drop, Rashford making amends to make it 3-3 before the sort of spectacular, dramatic conclusion this thriller deserved.

Liverpool had a corner in the closing seconds which was cleared, Diallo pinching possession from Elliott deep in his own half before running the length of the field to take Alejandro Garnacho’s pass and send the Stretford End wild by firing in off the far post.

And it all came as Ten Hag answered questions about his cloak of conservatism, sending on attackers Antony and Diallo in pursuit of victory. Even in periods of Liverpool dominance, United were never simply passive observers.

Ten Hag went on the attack. He had only two defenders, Diogo Dalot and Harry Maguire, on the pitch when this chaotic, outstanding encounter finished. Bruno Fernandes was seen filling in as a central defender while Diallo looked like he had been told just to play anywhere.

For a moment, they came out of the gloom Liverpool have cast over them in recent years, including that 5-0 loss under Solskjaer, a 4-0 thrashing under Ralf Rangnick, while Ten Hag earned his own unwanted place in history with a 7-0 humiliation at Anfield last season.

It is just one game but its importance should not be underplayed. If Ten Hag wanted to show Ratcliffe and his team he can recreate the Old Trafford occasions of the past, then this thunderous throwback of a win fitted the bill to perfection.

There is life in Erik ten Hag yet as Manchester United manager.

Adblock test (Why?)

Read Original Article