Four big assets Erik ten Hag has inherited in his first United team

Erik ten Hag is determined to bring success to his new club. Of course, he will want to bring in some new faces. To achieve his short and long-term goals, he also will need to get the best out of the players already in the squad.

Ten Hag at his first Manchester United press conference
Erik ten Hag at his first press conference as Manchester United manager – May 2022
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Following a tumultuous campaign for United filled with head-scratching displays and numb disappointment, a mutual deep breath is being felt around Manchester United. It has been one-step-forward-two steps-back, dead-end football for a long enough period of time, and the fans desire another direction.  

United can now put the dreaded 2021/22 season behind them and get behind their new manager, definite fan-choice Erik ten Hag. 

Ten Hag will be given a modest transfer budget, one that he won’t have had in his previous roles. The inevitable rumour mill of potential signings is already in full spin. Jurrien Timber, Frenkie de Jong and a rebuffing of United’s interest in Pau Torres are all looking like the potential transfer sagas that will likely persist long into United’s tour of Australia in July. 

Looking internally, ten Hag has some definite class in his squad already. Getting the best out of the players on this list should be high on his priority list. 

Job #1 for ten Hag – Cristiano Ronaldo 

Give any manager worth their salt a five-time Ballon d’Or winner with the determination, ruthless mentality and goal-scoring guile of Cristiano Ronaldo and he should be licking his lips.  

Ronaldo will need to shine under Erik ten Hag

Ronaldo will be hoping his eighth season with United ends with a trophy – (Photo by

It was an up and down season for United’s number 7; astonishingly, he endured his first trophy-less campaign since 2009/10. He will be starving for success this year, and is going to demand high standards from his teammates. 

Heading towards late-30s, the new manager should use Ronaldo in a specific role. One where he is presented with plenty of chances to score by his teammates. He clearly still possesses the predatory instinct that he always has done; he managed to score 24 goals across all competitions in a terrible overall season for United. Ronaldo is certainly not a bad player to build a team around, even if only for the 12 months remaining on his current deal. 

#2 – Bruno Fernandes 

Like his legendary Portugal teammate, Fernandes is a fan favourite who’s enjoyed a mixed season – (Photo by

Fernandes enjoyed an almost mythical introduction to life at Old Trafford, in which he made 28 goals contributions in 27 games. He also pushed the club up to a European semi-final and an unlikely top four finish on the final day against Leicester City.

His class is abundantly clear, and the fans really want to see Bruno ticking. 

He is progressive, forward-thinking, exciting on the ball and tenacious off it. Getting Fernandes ticking is priority number one for ten Hag. Last season’s dismal displays clearly frustrated him; a new coach with fresh ideas, one who plays to Bruno’s incredible strengths, is exactly what he and the club need. 

#3 – Harry Maguire (& Raphaël Varane)

In times not so long passed, world football regarded both Maguire and Varane very highly as centre-backs.  

Neither Maguire nor Varane had decent seasons, with Maguire being unanimously criticised by pundits and fans – (Photo by

Rewind back to before a head-shakingly bad 21/22 season for Maguire. The Yorkshireman entered a belated Euro 2020 on the back of a good campaign. He had begun to showcase his defensive talents in a United side which comfortably finished second.  

In 2020, Bryan Robson described him as ‘a demanding figure – an organiser – who fully deserved the captaincy’. ‘Captain Marvel’ famously skippered United for a period of 12 years and lifted the club’s first league title for 26 years in 1992. He of all people knows what it takes to lead United to glory. 

At his best, Maguire is an asset at the back. He’s vocal, excellent at bringing the ball out of defence and great with a tackle. These are all traits that his new manager will be after in his starting centre-halves.  

In August 2021, United fans salivated over the imminent partnership of Varane and Maguire. The pair are only a few decent performances away from forging the beginnings of this partnership. With both just entering their prime years, we could yet see the best of them under ten Hag.

#4 – Jadon Sancho could be ten Hag’s next starlet

Make no mistake, Sancho could be the next player to be labelled ‘world-class’ at United. 

Jadon Sancho joined Untied in summer 2021 for a fee of £73 million – so far he has contributed just 5 goals and 3 assists – (Photo by Getty Images)

This season was clearly difficult for the 22-year-old, but he certainly showed glimpses of why his wonderkid label is still valid. A patch of excellent mid-season form, where he contributed six goal involvements in as many games, proved this. 

Ten Hag’s desire for an energetic, creative and pacey wide-man who can terrorize his opponent’s defence is clear. Look at past success stories of his, like Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Antony. The new manager should be looking to utilise Sancho’s immense talents consistently. Working out how to make him sing in this United squad will be crucial to the Dutchman’s success. 

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Yes, it is abundantly clear that United need to fill several holes; securing some quality in defensive midfield and another forward should be a priority for the recruitment department at Old Trafford.

United must ensure the existing members of squad, who are undoubtedly full of talent, are being trained, coached and utilised correctly.  

For ten Hag’s appointment to work out, neither the fans nor he should expect to be rid of every player who underperformed this past 12 months. The squad would be very thin indeed if that were to happen. Instead, United should spend pre-season sharpening their existing blades, adding the necessary reinforcements and assessing who from the squad is capable of evolving with the club. The four players highlighted here should be of paramount importance to ten Hag. 

Author: Sam Talbot

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