Manchester United’s US tour: what Ten Hag will have learned from pre-season

What will become of Jadon Sancho?

Erik ten Hag has faith – for the moment – in the 23-year-old and a vision of the complete attacking footballer the forward can become for Manchester United, as his fielding of Sancho as a false 9 indicates. The goal Sancho scored against Arsenal was emblematic of this, the England international bursting on to a through ball, holding off Gabriel Magalhães in a show of pace and thrust that felt a new development, then rifling home. But for him to prosper and be the £74m marquee signing United believed they recruited two summers ago, there has to be more of this. Is it possible? Ten Hag thinks so.

Will Rasmus Højland score enough?

How many goals does the incoming centre-forward have to register in his debut Premier League campaign to make Ten Hag’s side contenders? Last season United scored a paltry 58 (the lowest of the top six sides) and although the Dane’s total price of £72m means a return of at least 20 seems a fair demand, this may be a touch unrealistic for a youngster in a first campaign in England.

Related: Erik ten Hag: ‘When I came in at United, the standards were not right’

Yet this is why he is being recruited: to be a major factor in a genuine push for the title. Marcus Rashford had the standout campaign of his United career last term, scoring 30 times, though only 17 of these were in the league. That is a good number but the kind of tally Raheem Sterling scored when being second fiddle to Sergio Agüero’s regular 20-plus seasons in two Manchester City title wins.

In the US Ten Hag joked about wanting a new centre-forward last summer. The manager will soon have one but there is an admission that Højlund is a gamble and needs developing after nine goals in his solitary campaign in a major European league – Serie A. Factor in how the club decided against a move for Tottenham’s Harry Kane (a puzzle) and Højlund may have to be a rip-roaring success or Ten Hag could be exposed.

Mason Mount yet to be a factor

“Flop” is too strong but “underwhelming” a fair assessment of a £60m addition who was close to anonymous on the tour when fielded as a central midfielder against Arsenal for 45 minutes and out wide against Real Madrid. The 24-year-old is yet to score in four friendlies and given that his area of play – wide or in attacking midfield – was not in desperate need of strengthening, his purchase, at this juncture, seems odd. As ever Ten Hag will live or die by his eye for talent.

The André Onana revolution

“The revolution starts here” might be a headline Ten Hag would write for the story of why he eased out David de Gea and £50m was spent to buy the Cameroonian from Internazionale. Onana, who the manager coached at Ajax, is a goalkeeper whose skill set with his feet should make United slick under a tight press near goal and allow him to act as a “holding midfielder” (Uefa’s technical report description of his performance in last season’s Champions League final) who will knit the play from midway in his own half.

Onana has personality, too, whereas De Gea could cut a meek, passive figure. Onana is a fiery character who, at Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium in the last tour match against Borussia Dortmund, raced over to Harry Maguire to bawl out the recently deposed captain for a pass he believed sold Christian Eriksen short and which nearly led to a goal. Onana promises to be a one-man subplot in the film of United’s 2023-4 campaign.

Erik ten Hag was a man(ager) relaxed

The Dutchman twice stopped for an impromptu chat with the travelling English press corps – after the 2-0 defeat of Arsenal in New Jersey and at the team hotel in San Diego, where he quipped to a group waiting for an Uber that they should keep their distance before he happily shot the breeze, discussing life on tour and the “demands” of being a football writer.

This contrasts with earlier in the close season when Ten Hag was frustrated at the lack of progress in the transfer window but the addition of Mount and Onana (plus the agreement to sign Højlund) eased his mood. In a second summer in charge, Ten Hag appears to be in near total control of the club’s football operation. Before the flight to Las Vegas for the last game of the trip, this writer was teased about how his colourful shirt might cast him as the “lead singer from the Beach Boys”.

You might also like...