Two surprising statistics emerged last weekend, and both involved Manchester United.
Statistic No. 1 is that Erik ten Hag has won more points in his first 50 English Premier League games – 96 – than Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp (92) and Arsenal boss Mikael Arteta (75). Only Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola (112), sits above him.
Ten Hag’s points bettered all Manchester United managers since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, with the next closest being Jose Mourinho (95 points), followed by Louis van Gaal (94) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (85).
The second statistic that caught many off-guard is that Manchester United is the in-form team in the league, having won four of its last five matches, collecting 12 points.
The five teams above – Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Aston Villa – have collected 10, 11, 10, nine, and 10 points, respectively.
So, that begs the question, why are some fans unhappy with the Dutch manager?
Part of the reason is United’s dismal Champions League record this season. It has played four matches, winning once and losing three times, to sit bottom of Group A.
However, United still has a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage, as it is only a point behind Copenhagen and Galatasaray, which have four points each.
Bayern Munich is guaranteed to top the standing after winning all four matches to sit on 12 points. The runner-up will join it in the knockout stage, while the third-placed team will enter the Europa League.
Many United critics argue that the team is playing “dreadful” or “boring” football, with no clear indication of a strong XI.
Ten Hag has spent £407 million on new players – the second highest in the EPL behind Chelsea’s £1.2 billion outlay – yet the team has no “identity”.
They also point to the exile of English forward Jadon Sancho, the over-reliance on a misfiring Markus Rashford, and the disappointing Anthony Martial as reasons the former Ajax boss needs to go.
Several news outlets reported that Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is in talks to buy a 25 per cent stake in United with an eye to take over the club, wants ten Hag to solve the Sancho issue – either reintroduce him back to the team, or sell a player earning £250,000-a-week, as from a business point of view, it does not make sense to have him on a bench.
Sancho’s absence is more baffling considering ten Hag has a long list of players – Casemiro (thigh), Lisandro Martinez (ankle/foot), Jonny Evans (knock), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (illness), Tyrell Malacia (knee), Luke Shaw (leg), Christian Eriksen (knee), Rasmus Hojlund (thigh) and Amad (knee) – out with injuries.
With leagues around the world taking the final international break of the year, ten Hag has some breathing space to plan United’s climb up the table, and to win back his critics.