Should Ralf Rangnick and Manchester United Go All In On Erik ten Hag?

This image is a derivative of red devils by William Brawley (CC BY 2.0)

The Glazers have been down at the job centre, yet unfortunately for Manchester United fans they weren't looking for an opportunity of their own, but rather searching for a manager to help them out of yet another self-induced pickle. 

Through incredible fortune they've been able to secure Ralf Rangnick, one of the most respected minds in world football. The German will first take over in an interim capacity, carefully implementing a club-wide philosophy that will give this famous club its best chance to return to glory. 

At this stage it's unclear whether United or Rangnick would want the managerial job long-term, and if that's the case the Red Devils will once again be on the lookout for a manager, with the former RB Leipzig major-domo tasked with selecting the ideal candidate. 

While Zinedine Zidane would be an excellent option, a candidate which would fit more ideally into Rangnick's values would be Dutch manager, Erik ten Hag. 

The current Ajax boss is leading his club to one of their best-ever seasons which is saying something for a famous institution who's dominated the Eredivisie and who only recently re-joined the best of Europe, narrowly missing out on an appearance in the 2019 Champions League final. 

Under ten Hag Ajax have produced some of the most scintillating football the modern game has to offer which is precisely why both United fans (and Rangnick) will be keeping a close eye on everything happening over in Amsterdam in the coming months.  

With that in mind, what could we expect to see should United poach the brilliant Dutchman?

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Who is Erik ten Hag?

Unlike Zidane, ten Hag is a relative unknown amongst the casual footballing public. He didn’t have a remarkable playing career, floating between middling sides in the Netherlands before making his managerial debut ten years after his playing retirement in 2002 ended. 

His first job was for Go Ahead Eagles in the second division in Holland. After being at the helm for a year he went across to Germany and managed Bayern Munich II. After being at the headquarters of one of the biggest clubs in the world, his two year stint ended in 2015 when he took his first top-flight job, returning home to manage Utrecht where he also was appointed the sporting director. 

After a 5th place finish in his first year and a 4th place finish the following season he was poached by the biggest club in the country halfway through his third campaign. With only half of the season to salvage the side, he led Ajax to a respectable 2nd place finish. 

The following season was when his managerial prowess truly emerged. His side won the Eredivisie with a preposterous +87-goal difference, only dropping points in six games. However, the Champions League was where he made his name with Ajax going undefeated within a group that contained Bayern Munich and Benfica. Ajax’s coming out party didn’t end there, over-throwing the defending Champions Real Madrid which included a 4-1 thumping at the Bernabeu. They would heartbreakingly fall at the Semi-Finals to Tottenham, but his legend was already set in stone. 

After having key players poached in the transfer window ten Hag struggled to recapture that form the following season and crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages and because of the pandemic they would not be crowned champions despite being top of the table at the time of season being abandoned

The following season he would lead Ajax to another League title, despite crashing out in the Champions League in the group stages again.

Despite not being the most well-known manager he has shown that he can take a struggling side and turn them into a powerhouse, whilst maintaining their threat in Europe. 

With a much better squad at his disposal at United, and with the support of a figure like Rangnick, the sky could be the limit where United's long-awaited resurgence is concerned. 

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What can he offer Manchester United?

Luckily for Untied ten Hag almost exclusively deploys a 4-2-3-1 system and which wouldn’t make for any kind departure at Old Trafford. 

The double-pivot in midfield is the most integral part of the system and ten Hag prefers one more defensively minded midfielder, who stays deep to destroy opposition attacks and give off simple passes whereas the secondary midfielder is more adventurous. 

He prefers a physically strong midfielder who can carry the ball up the pitch and break through the lines. 

Ten Hag’s preference is for expansive players who can carry the ball and are quick in possession. This is done to facilitate his asymmetric style which set his system apart from most others in Europe.  

The position that each player takes during the game is very interesting. It starts with the full-backs. The left-back progresses in-line with the midfield double pivot, whereas the right-back progresses high and wide. The more defensive double pivot in midfield sits deep to cover the advancing right-full back, whereas the more adventurous double-pivot push high on the left-hand side.

Both wingers sit very wide and high. This creates an overload on the right-hand side, as well as a different proposition on the left, with multiple players covering multiple areas, making it hard to mark them all. The number 10 tends to drift into the right half-space, combining with the winger and full back - whereas the number 9 drops deep to collect the ball and then makes the reverse run into the box. 

Overall, this 'Elbow' shaped defence - with one full-back being more conservative than the other - creates a difficult dynamic to deal with. Alongside the asymmetrical style of the midfield double pivot, this is a nightmare for oppositions to manage. 

The wingers staying wide maintains width - which also creates plenty of space in the middle, which has allowed Sebastian Haller and Steven Berghuis to have spectacular seasons to date.

This is a potential side that United could line up with under ten Hag. 

Paul Pogba would suit his attacking-minded defensive midfielder perfectly, while Jadon Sancho is one the best players at the club when it comes to close control and dribbling. Marcus Rashford blistering pace on the right-hand side could be vital for the system to click, while Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are locked in starters. 

The defence also picks itself, however, Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be an issue, as he isn’t as attacking minded as what ten Hag wants from that position. There is the possibility that he mirror’s the formation, with a more attacking left-hand side, in that case, it could potentially suit United even more. 

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Is he the right choice?

This system that ten Hag plays can translate perfectly to the side that Untied have available. He is more than competent managing in Europe and has the silverware to prove that he is a winner. 

While this will be by far his biggest job and his first time managing real ego's, he has the tools to create something special out of this Untied squad. 

While he is among the least ‘known’ prospects when it comes to the United job, he has the managerial acumen and the tactical nous to revitalise what’s fast become a rather bland United team. 

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Ari Stamatakos

Ari Stamatakos is a high school student and aspiring writer who's passionate about the sports he loves. An Avid Carlton, Melbourne Victory and Chelsea Fan, he currently writes for Carlton fan page can check him out on twitter @Ari_Y_Stama

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