Jose Mourinho would have been proud of Erik ten Hag’s game-plan for the match against Newcastle last weekend.
Except for the result, of course. Then again, the Special One almost never won at Newcastle.
And so it was for Manchester United. On Sunday, Erik ten Hag tried to dip into his predecessor’s bag of dirty tricks to try and steal three points. There was lots of time wasting and play-acting designed to rile up the opposition and interrupt their flow. There were long stretches of passivity designed to invite pressure in the hopes it would lead to counterattacking opportunities. There was a reliance on David de Gea to make incredible saves to keep the scoreline as close to 0-0 as possible.
It was unsuccessful, as Newcastle won 2-0. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances, it was, arguably, a sound strategy.
United have been in poor form ever since winning the League Cup against Newcastle by the same 2-0 score at Wembley. Without the suspended Casemiro or the injured Christian Eriksen, United have been unable to control the midfield or consistently generate scoring chances. Instead, they’ve had to rely on moments of individual brilliance from the likes of Marcus Rashford, or teams giving them a helping hand, like Fulham a couple of weeks ago.
United also seem to be hitting a wall, having had to play multiple times a week in almost every week since the World Cup. Things could only get worse, as United remain alive in both the FA Cup and Europa League.
The end of the season can’t come quickly enough.