Manchester United

Erik Ten Hag is getting exactly what he wanted from his Manchester United players



What a dramatic difference ten weeks can make.


Exactly 70 days since Manchester United last visited the capital, the full-time scenes could not have been more contrasting. Perhaps mindful of the 4-0 embarrassment they experienced at the Gtech Community Stadium against Brentford as the team bus navigated its way through the west London streets, United’s players could have been forgiven for feeling the nerves as Stamford Bridge crept into view.

But a lot had changed since United’s last visit to London and that was blindingly obvious to everyone who watched Saturday’s teatime kick-off against Chelsea. After Casemiro’s 94th-minute equaliser rescued a point to keep the Reds within touching distance of the top-four, a pile of bodies risked crushing the Brazilian, while Lisandro Martinez was spotted hugging a complete stranger at the front of the away end. It meant so much.


The last time United’s players had approached an away end in the capital they were heckled and on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse and anger from those who were brave enough to stay right until the end. The scenes at Stamford Bridge could not have been more contrasting to the ones we all witnessed at Brentford, so much so that United’s fans would have lifted Casemiro aloft and paraded him around the away end if they could have done.


After falling behind to Jorginho’s 87th-minute penalty, United could have easily folded and collapsed. The United of old would have done, but not anymore.


There is a feeling of belief and courage embedded within the squad nowadays, and Erik ten Hag, who got the better of his opposite number, Graham Potter, tactically, is responsible for that. He has instilled a never-say-die attitude into his players and their recent comebacks against Everton and Chelsea in their last two Premier League away games have proven that they are adhering to his demands and his philosophy.


Casemiro’s last-gasp header at the Shed End of Stamford Bridge moved United, at the time, to the top of the table as far as points won away from home from losing positions are concerned. The Reds have collected four points from losing positions on the road already this season, compared to the five they managed in the whole of last season.


United were 1-0 down just five minutes into their 2-1 win over Everton a fortnight ago, but refused to roll over and accept defeat like they did on so many occasions last season, turning the game on its head by the interval. They then survived a late barrage of attacks by standing firm and being resolute enough to see the game through.


Both Europa League fixtures against Omonia Nicosia forced United to show depths of character and fighting spirit; they had to come from behind to win 3-2 in Cyprus before being forced to go right until the end before finding a way past an inspired Francis Uzoho in the return fixture at Old Trafford to wrap up the points. Both wins, just like the draw with Chelsea, provided proof that United are a new beast under Ten Hag.

Last season, once they went behind, United were a wounded animal, losing 12 of the 18 Premier League games they trailed in. They collected ten points from losing positions, compared to the four they have already won from such positions this season.


Although no team wants to be tasked with coming from behind, United’s recent efforts when having to come from a losing position cannot be ignored. They have shown plenty of character and mental strength, proving that Ten Hag has embedded a new mindset and sense of character within the group.


Ten Hag, right from the outset of his Old Trafford reign, has frequently spoken about the need for the attitude of his players to be right.


After the defeat at Brentford, the Dutchman said: “I think I made myself clear, I was definitely not happy. You can talk about football philosophy, but the basic stuff has to be good.


“That starts with the right attitude, a fighting attitude on the pitch. I didn’t see that from minute one. You have to bring it every game.


“It starts with yourself. Act as a team, follow the rules and principles and work hard. If you do that you get confidence.”


A lot has changed since that pitiful, warm, sun-drenched August evening against Brentford and the scenes at full-time at Stamford Bridge on Saturday proved it. United have been united as one under Ten Hag and you get the sense this could be the start of something special.