Sancho on the right, De Gea sweeping: Five Ten Hag moves more important than the score

As the ticker swirled around Manchester United players on a plinth at the Rajamangala Stadium, it was fun to speculate how Erik ten Hag had taken a game to end the club’s five-year trophyless run.

Anyone who was stunned by United’s 4-0 win over Liverpool in the Bangkok Century Cup was brought down to earth by the man himself, however. “I saw a lot of mistakes,” Ten Hag said. “Liverpool played three teams, they weren’t at their best. We won’t overestimate this result.

The caveats don’t get much bigger than Jurgen Klopp changing his entire squad every 30 minutes and fielding several players from the academy, as Liverpool’s pre-season started a week after United’s. But nonetheless, there were signs that Ten Hag had already come through his players in various ways, and that must be encouraging for a new manager. “I saw some really good things, a lot of speed and creativity up front,” he added.

Here in the Thai capital, as 50,328 fans watched with genuine enthusiasm – some paying up to 25,000 baht, or nearly £600 or a month’s salary – Athleticism was able to get a glimpse of what went well for Ten Hag and choose five most relevant things.


Sancho on the right, Rashford on the left

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had the right wing in mind when signing Jadon Sancho, but various factors meant that plan never quite materialized. Still, it seems the most natural balance to have Sancho on the right and Marcus Rashford on his preferred left and that’s what Ten Hag chose on his first chance.

Both players pressed Liverpool with intensity, Rashford once coming out of his wing to chase Kostas Tsimikas down the opposite flank, and that’s where United found their joy – forcing Klopp’s side to make mistakes.

On the ball, Sancho was enjoying himself, a day after being on the tip of Ten Hag’s sharp tongue. At one point he rolled his cleats over the ball in midfield to gain space and by the half hour mark he was enjoying himself so much he chose a backheel to control Luke Shaw’s cross pass .

He was efficient too. Only Alisson’s big hand deflected a Rashford cross at the far post – the same move had led to a goal in training on Monday – and it was his pressure on Nat Phillips that turned possession over so he could center the ball low. Again Rashford was waiting but his tame shot was blocked.

Perhaps Rashford had in mind the luck he had slammed into the side netting after Fred’s turnover moments before. He tried to place his second effort. Rashford looked sharp, but surely finding the right finishes would have boosted his confidence even further.


Man of the Match Martial

Anthony Martial ended 2021-22 on the periphery of the Sevilla side, an inauspicious end to a loan move that was meant to revive his career. He looked transformed against Liverpool, giving the kind of display United coaching staff have wanted since bullying Manchester City at the Etihad in March 2021.

It happened against a second-tier Liverpool defense but it was still refreshing to see Martial stepping on the gas when opportunities presented themselves. For his goal, chipped with trademark delicacy, he pounced on Rhys Williams with an intensity that Solskjaer tried to instill regularly. Whether Ten Hag can pull this off remains to be seen, but his brand of hands-on coaching may be more potent than Martial has experienced before. He’s 26 now, so he has to take responsibility too.

United entered this summer open to offers from Martial, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence on this tour has opened the door for the Frenchman to make an effort to be an important part of Ten Hag’s attack.

Martial left the pitch at half-time grimacing and clutching his hip after missing training on Monday, so Ten Hag will hope he is unharmed.


Fernandes and Fred find a rhythm

We know Bruno Fernandes is risky and rewarded with his passing. We know Fred can close space for opponents and leave the midfield unguarded. Both were well balanced in those aspects against Liverpool.

Fernandes hit a pass from Luke Shaw’s first throw-in over his shoulder, the way he can do wildly to concede possession. This time the ball went well to Sancho.

Fernandes was a game-changer again for Sancho later on, with a pass that didn’t look activated even in the press box. Fernandes somehow saw that a flat pass through the middle of the Liverpool defence, rather than an angle towards the wing, would allow Sancho to run the ball.

Fernandes looked strained at times last season, but when convinced he is a real asset to United he looks refreshed from his break.

Liverpool broke a few times in the first 30 minutes but the prevailing mood was that United, with Fred busy, had the advantage. He won the high ball for Rashford’s chance – the same way he did at Villarreal last season for Ronaldo’s goal – and he generally went higher than Monday’s training session would. suggested it. At times he fell deep, once in a back three, but he was helpful in the final third, where his anticipation was tuned. His goal was of course inspired, glowing with joy, but more rudimentarily, he had to be there in the first place. when the ball broke away.


De Gea further from his line

David de Gea kept United’s clean sheet with a streak of best saves, but that’s now the norm. More notable was the frequency with which he went off target. At the start of the first half, De Gea ran out of his area to intercept a long pass from Liverpool which looked momentarily dangerous and shortly after the break he sprinted to the near touchline to put the ball away. game, with young forward Bobby Clark. close quickly. Liverpool took a quick throw-in but Tyrell Malacia was on hand to block.


De Gea played further from his line – but also picked up an injury (Photo: Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images)

De Gea was also alert for a pass to Darwin Nunez, coming out quickly to claim but injuring himself in the process and signaling to come loose.

Nonetheless, it looks like Ten Hag gave clear instructions to De Gea to be more assertive so the defense can play a higher line and the forwards push higher. It’s not the Spaniard’s natural game and maybe when the real action starts it will be revealed. But a key pillar of Ten Hag’s approach was evident in Bangkok.


Iqbal and Savage hold on

Zidane Iqbal and Charlie Savage both made their United debuts in the Champions League against Young Boys and this was another opportunity to be had. Sent off at half-time, after doing a boxing drill under Eric Ramsay and the other eight outfield changes during the break, Iqbal and Savage put in an impressive performance against what ended up as the best midfielder of Liverpool ground. For 30 minutes they competed with Thiago, Fabinho and Naby Keita.

Neither have been players the academy would say were nailed for the first team, but they are both working hard in training and deserve their places on this tour.

Iqbal consistently offered the ball in tight spaces and kept possession with simple picks. He looked smooth. He also set Anthony Elanga up with a smart pass over the top, although the offside flag was raised.

Savage has sparkling his passes with precision and his left foot can be an asset after the departures of Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata. He got so comfortable he even did a Maradona turn.

Both are likely to be loaned out this season but both have the chance to show Ten Hag they are worth keeping in the first team.

(Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

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