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Man United: Season Review

Erik ten Hag has endured a whirlwind debut season as Manchester United manager, but he can take several positives from his first 12 months in the Old Trafford hot seat.

Looking back at how the season started, Ten Hag has done wonders to extract 75 points from a flawed first-team squad.

The Dutchman was thrown into the mix of things following a catastrophic 2021/22 campaign in which Man United finished with its lowest points in the 30-year Premier League era.

The club endured a slow start in the summer transfer market and subsequently struck two mega-money deals in the final two weeks before the August 31st deadline.

United acquired the Brazilian duo of Casemiro (£60million) from Real Madrid and Antony (£85million) from Ajax. The club had also signed Lisandro Martinez (£50million) from Ten Hag's former employers in Amsterdam.

Although not immediately, the additions of Casemiro and Martinez enforced the spine of what was a pretty spineless unit ahead of the season.

United suffered an horrendous start to the league campaign. An opening-day defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion was compounded by a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Brentford.

Ten Hag became the first United manager since John Chapman in 1921 to lose his first two competitive matches, but improvements in the last nine months have been substantial.

Their third match of the season saw the visit of arch rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford. Another defeat would have left Ten Hag under severe pressure but United ran out deserved winners which ultimately kickstarted the Erik ten Hag era.

Beating Liverpool kickstarted Man United's league campaign. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

When it became apparent of the manager's preference for a high-press system, it was immediately doubted whether Cristiano Ronaldo, now 38, would have a role to play in the new-look Man United.

Once it emerged the Portuguese was not best-suited to this particular style of play, Ten Hag made an example of Ronaldo, in the best interests of the team, in showing that he would pick the best-performing players as opposed to the name on the back of the shirt.

Ronaldo was named in the starting XI for only four of the ten Premier League matches he featured in, though he started all six of United's group games in the Europa League.

During United's 2-0 win over Tottenham in October, arguably the team's most convincing performance under Ten Hag until that point, Ronaldo did not make an appearance other than when he made a beeline for the dressing rooms just minutes before the final whistle, presumably frustrated at the sight of the team coping – and flourishing – without his contributions.

Being out of the limelight obviously put Ronaldo's nose out of joint and his bombshell interview with Piers Morgan – which first came to light immediately after Alejandro Garnacho's last-minute winner for United at Fulham – was ultimately the straw that broke the camel's back.

Ten Hag and Ronaldo did not see eye to eye. (Photo: AMA/Getty Images)

Ronaldo and United mutually agreed to part ways in November, shortly after the World Cup got underway. Just hours after this announcement, it was also revealed the club's owners – the Glazer family – were open to “strategic alternatives” and potentially a full sale of the franchise. But more on that later on.

As the World Cup came and went, Ten Hag's side came out firing once the domestic season resumed. Marcus Rashford, in particular, netted 16 goals in 19 games following the showpiece in Qatar.

Christian Eriksen arrived at Old Trafford as a free agent in the summer and he instantly emerged as an integral member of the first-team, easing the burden on Bruno Fernandes in regards creativity.

To the dismay of his teammates, manager and supporters alike, Eriksen sustained an ankle injury in the FA Cup fourth round tie versus Reading at the end of January. A lousy challenge by Andy Carroll left the Danish midfielder out of action until Easter weekend.

The engine room was dealt another blow when Casemiro was handed a four-match ban for allegedly putting his hands around the neck of Will Hughes (Crystal Palace).

It was no coincidence that United began to crumble in the absence of Casemiro. Without him and Eriksen, performance levels dropped and results began to wane. Marcel Sabitzer was brought in towards the end of the January market as cover for a fragile midfield unit.

Another January loan signing, Wout Weghorst has produced an admirable work rate whilst donning the Man United badge although the Dutch striker failed to leave his mark on the scoresheet, netting just twice in his 30 appearances for the club.

United overcame a massive hurdle in the form of Barcelona when the two European juggernauts shared a pitch in the Europa League last-16 play-off.

A courageous performance at Camp Nou saw United leave Catalonia with a precious draw, before they completed the turnaround with a 2-1 (4-3 aggregate) victory over La Blaugrana.

February proved a pivotal month in United's first season under Ten Hag. Not only did the Red Devils knock Barcelona out of Europe, they also lifted the team's first trophy since 2017. Goals by Casemiro and Rashford saw United claim a 2-0 win over Newcastle Utd and lift the Carabao Cup (League Cup) at Wembley.

There was a clear drop-off following the success at Wembley as United won just three of their last ten games away from Old Trafford, not including the penalty shootout win against Brighton in the FA Cup semifinals.

A 7-0 demolition at Anfield, in addition to going down 2-0 away to Newcastle, threatened to derail United's bid for a place among the top four.

United played eight times in February and nine during April, with a game every three days on average. The unrelenting schedule took its toll on a relatively thin squad, which meant several players on the treatment table.

Garnacho picked up an injury mid-March and did not feature until the 2-0 win against Wolves, in which the 18-year-old winger scored in stoppage time to seal the points on the way to securing Champions League qualification.

During his spell on the sidelines, Garnacho committed his long-term future to the club by penning a new contract until June 2028.

Also agreeing a new deal, Luke Shaw signed on the dotted line in the first week of April, shortly before the team crashed out of the Europa League (in astonishing fashion) to Sevilla.

The Spanish side retained its reputation as United's kryptonite, having gotten the better of them in each of the teams' last three European ties.

After a dramatic exit from Europe, Man United were left to contend an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. A closely-fought encounter with Brighton ended in United reaching the final by narrowly winning the on penalties.

Overall, United have struggled to find the net and there has been too little a variety of goal scorers. Rashford (30) and Fernandes (12) accounted for almost two-thirds of the 68 goals scored throughout the season in all competitions.

In what has been his best season to date, Rashford scooped both the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and the Players' Player of the Year at the club's awards ceremony on Monday.

The 25-year-old forward becomes the first United academy graduate to be named Player of the Year since Ryan Giggs in 1998 and David Beckham the year prior.

High-profile forwards Jadon Sancho and Antony have arguably underperformed in front of goal but, still aged 23 and 22 respectively, they will be determined to improve on their ruthlessness from next term. The two wingers have scored just 15 goals between them in all competitions this term.

Antony picked up the prize for Goal of the Season with his volleyed winner versus Barcelona. Ten Hag will hope this recognition may serve as the catalyst for the Brazilian to take his output up a notch in the future.

Anthony Martial's days as a Manchester United player are numbered. It was reported on Tuesday the French attacker would miss the FA Cup final with a muscular problem – his sixth injury this season.

Martial continues to be hampered by injuries. (Photo: Manchester United via Getty Images)

Martial, 26, is one of the highest earners in the United dressing room and there are more reasons to sell him than to keep him. He has scored just 17 goals for the club since the start of the 2020/21 season, with nine of those coming this campaign.

Casemiro has seven goals to his name, while Garnacho scored five times in his first season with the first-team.

Fernandes created 119 chances in the Premier League, with 32 of those deemed as 'big chances'. He topped both metrics with no player in the English top flight creating more than United's chief playmaker, yet he only registered eight assists. A testament to the dire need for added quality in front of goal.

At the opposite end of the pitch, David de Gea had another season of ups and downs though it is expected the Spanish goalkeeper will remain a Man United player come July, albeit on a reduced salary.

De Gea ended the Premier League season with 17 clean sheets, more than any other keeper, to claim the Golden Glove award for a second time. He once again produced a catalogue of reflex saves, although not to say he wasn't without his usual moments of panic.

United's No.1 had a woeful evening at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium in Seville as the Red Devils were dumped out of Europe. Two weeks later the 31-year-old was culpable for another goalkeeping blunder against West Ham, placing added pressure on United to ward off a resurgent Liverpool and seal a top-four spot.

De Gea with the Golden Glove, surrounded by his teammates. (Photo: @Manchester United on Facebook)

The Raine Group, the merchant bank handling the potential sale of Manchester United, had aimed for the process to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2023. If we're lucky, it could be in the past by the time we enter the second half of the year.

Despite a myriad of off-field distractions, Ten Hag remained resolute in keeping his team on track for a top-four finish as well as silverware.

United ended the Premier League season in 3rd place, with an impressive tally of 75 points – seven wins and 17 points more than in 2021/22.

One of the biggest positives to take from the season is that of a splendid effort in restoring Old Trafford as a fortress.

Out of 33 games at home, Ten Hag's men ended with 27 wins, four draws and only two defeats. The Reds have not lost at the Theatre of Dreams since September.

They took 48 points from a possible 57, with Man City (52) the only Premier League team with a superior return from home games. No team conceded fewer goals at home than United (10).

Their record away from home, however, has been far from satisfactory with United collecting just 27 points – 12 fewer than Arsenal as the top-performing side away side in 2022/23.

In particular, United's record versus top-half teams has been ghastly to say the least. Losses at Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Man City, Newcastle, Brighton and Brentford mean that Man United beat only a single team (Fulham) that ended inside the top 10.

Against the aforementioned teams, United conceded 29 goals and scored only 10. Brentford, Liverpool and Man City alone shipped in 17 goals past a porous defence.

Overall, United have won 41 out of 61 [competitive] matches under Ten Hag. With a 67 per cent win rate, the Dutchman has a superior win ratio to any United manager in their first season post-Ferguson.

The competitiveness of the Premier League is expected to only grow further and United will have to invest in new, better players this summer, as Ten Hag alluded to in the aftermath to his team's final-day win over Fulham.

Arsenal and Newcastle are looking to push on and cement a spot amongst the top four while the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea are expected to bounce back from a sup-par season.

Addressing the Old Trafford faithful on Sunday, the manager placed on record his thanks to supporters for their steadfast backing of the team and also emphasised the importance of returning the FA Cup to the red half of Manchester.

Ten Hag got the better of Pep Guardiola in January, though their upcoming meeting will be of much greater significance than their two preceding encounters. City and United each earned a home victory over the other in the Premier League but a grand occasion at Wembley, a neutral venue, suggests fine margins could be the difference on Saturday.

Ten Hag will lead out his red army with the clear aim of capping off his first season with FA Cup glory, but it will all come down to how brave his players are and how desperately they want to beat a Man City outfit tipped as the best team in the world.

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