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What Ten Hag needs to do to stop Man Utd’s decay: From a De Jong agreement to a resolution of the Ronaldo controversy

 

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If drastic action is not taken before the close of the transfer window, the crisis at Old Trafford will only worsen

 

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Just two games into his Manchester United reign and there are already questions over Erik ten Hag’s ability to turn his disastrous start around. The problems feel so much bigger than just the manager, who inherited an imbalanced and decimated squad – and a club at its lowest ebb for more than 30 years.

He needs help from above after another shambolic transfer window that shuts on September 1.

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His top target, Frenkie de Jong, is still to arrive – and humiliating defeats to Brighton and Brentford have proved his current squad can’t compete.

 

A world-class midfielder – no, not Rabiot

Way back in May, Ten Hag held a transfer summit with football director, John Murtough, in Amsterdam where he laid out the importance of a ball-playing midfielder, capable of linking defence and attack.

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Frenkie de Jong was his No.1 target – and United have spent the summer pursuing the Dutchman, despite knowing “stars would have to align” to get the deal done.

A fee of £63 million ($74.5m) was agreed with Barcelona last month, but De Jong appears to be no closer to a move to Old Trafford.

United are already counting the cost of their failure to get their business done before the start of the season – and now need to push ahead with the signing of the Netherlands international, or move on to other targets.

Adrien Rabiot will provide more depth for Ten Hag – but he needs a world-class holding midfielder to implement the possession-based game he wants United to play.

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Forward reinforcements

A summer that began with the pursuit of Darwin Nunez has seen United turn their attentions to Antony, Benjamin Sesko, Marko Arnautovic and now Cody Gakpo.

It points to the lack of a clear transfer strategy and the growing desperation within the club just to boost numbers.

 

But there is no doubting Ten Hag’s options are limited up front – especially with Anthony Martial missing the start of the season with a hamstring injury.

Jadon Sancho hasn’t got going yet – and Marcus Rashford’s wastefulness against Brighton points to his ongoing struggles to regain his form.

Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the starting line-up at Brentford, despite a limited pre-season.

Considering United have scored only once in their last four games – and that was an own goal by Alexis Mac Allister – there is nowhere near enough pressure on their forwards to produce, with so little in the way of competition for places.

 

The Glazers to sell – or buy

The pressure on United’s hated owners has only intensified after such a shambolic start and another transfer window that is threatening to end in failure.

Former director Michael Knighton says he is planning a takeover bid, while fans and club legend Gary Neville are calling for the Americans to finally sell.

There is growing talk of protests – possibly ahead of the Liverpool game a week on Monday.

The Glazers have proved themselves thick-skinned in the past – and it is unlikely they will bow to pressure now.

But there is one way they can ease tensions with supporters – and that is to release more cash to allow Ten Hag to properly overhaul his squad this summer.

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The disastrous start to the season has proved this is an even bigger job than possibly the new manager thought.

Without adequate backing in the transfer market, it would become impossible.

 

Time and patience

This is not a problem that is likely to be fixed overnight. It is has taken nine years of mismanagement to get United to this point – and Ten Hag will need the club to be patient with him as he implements his system.

The players are clearly struggling to come to terms with his demands. That will take hours and hours on the training ground, with Ten Hag running drills that are designed to make his methods second nature to his squad.

If United were sufficiently convinced about his vision when appointing him, then they need to continue to show faith now.

A resolution to the Ronaldo issue

It has hung over the club for the majority of the summer – and Ronaldo’s angry reaction when leaving the pitch after Brentford on Saturday pointed to his continued dissatisfaction.

Ten Hag insists the Portuguese legend has not expressed a desire to leave this summer – but the story will rumble on until after deadline day on September 1.

 

He certainly did not cut a contented figure after this latest humiliation – and Ten Hag cannot afford to have such an influential character bringing negativity to a fragile dressing room.

 

Ronaldo wants to leave for a Champions League club. Ten Hag needs to make a quick decision on whether he can make it work with the forward or cut his losses now.

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A clear-out

As much as Ten Hag needs players in – there are also too many at the club who have to move on.

Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been available all summer – but there has been little interest in taking them off United’s hands.

It cannot be considered a meaningful overhaul until both ins and outs are completed.

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