There was plenty of optimism around Old Trafford as Manchester United geared up for their first Premier League game of the season. With Erik ten Hag entering his second season as manager, there was a feeling that this would be the club’s season to shine. The likes of Mason Mount, Andre Onana, and Rasmus Hojland had been signed to strengthen in key areas, and the mood was good.
90 minutes later, after a fortunate 1-0 win over predicted strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers, spirits had been dampened somewhat. United were outplayed for large portions of the match, and if Wolves had been able to take any of the hugely presentable chances that fell their way, it could have been a different story. As it happened, Raphael Varane’s winner was enough to claim the three points.
Less than a week later, United had a chance to inspire more hope in their supporters and affirm their status in the Premier League betting odds, with a trip to the capital to take on Tottenham Hotspur. But again, Ten Hag’s men were second best for the majority of the contest, and this time they were made to pay, with two second-half goals giving Spurs a deserved victory.
Despite the defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the United boss was keen to encourage his side and cite the positives.
“It’s about keeping the belief,” Ten Hag said. “I think always you find arguments to give an explanation for a performance but I don’t see it in that way. I think the team [stuck] together. They didn’t collapse, they [kept] fighting, we created chances.”
While the Dutchman may feel confident that his team are pulling in the right direction, major improvement will be needed if United are to have any chance of challenging Manchester City and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
The start of the season can go a long way to setting the tone for the months to come, and United risk losing ground if they don’t pull together some results quickly. There’s been a lack of cohesion in the team, especially up front, where the likes of Marcus Rashford and Antony have been unable to produce their best form.
Meanwhile, there appears to be uncertainty in the backline. Lisandro Martinez has endured a difficult start to the campaign, and his own goal against Tottenham summed things up. There are still question marks around Aaran Wan-Bissaka too, as to whether or not he has the requisite quality to help United mount a title charge.
There’s no doubt that Ten Hag will get things moving in the right direction soon. There are similarities to be drawn from United’s start to the last campaign, but at least this time the results haven’t been quite as catastrophic so far.
United may well need to develop the ability to play football badly but still win. After all, it’s those kinds of intangibles that can define a title challenge. It will be interesting to see whether United can kickstart their season in the coming weeks.