Has Erik ten Hag finally found the solution to Manchester United’s away form?
Assess Erik ten Hag’s reign as Manchester United manager, as his new paymasters are now doing, and the standout moment came at Wembley when he lifted the Carabao Cup trophy. But most of the defining triumphs, the reasons to believe the Dutchman is the right man, were at Old Trafford.
Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Barcelona, Aston Villa, Chelsea: Ten Hag amassed an impressive collection of scalps. But only on home soil. When, more than 18 months after Ten Hag’s debut in the dugout, Scott McTominay added to his assortment of vital goals by heading United to victory at Villa Park, it was more than just one result. Partly because, had United lost a game in which Unai Emery believed his side played as well as in their storming win over Manchester City, they would have been 11 points behind Villa, in effect out of the race for the Champions League spots.
But also because it was arguably United’s first win on the road against anyone remotely resembling elite opposition since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last stand, since October 2021’s triumph at Tottenham. The mention of the manager shows it was another era: the first two scorers were Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, who now have a combined age of 75. If Ten Hag cannot be blamed for some of United’s depressing away days in the following seven months, United’s record in the toughest tests on the road since then felt an indictment; one that Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Sir Dave Brailsford and the incoming CEO Omar Berrada may examine.
“I think we can beat any opponent away or at home,” Ten Hag said, after a long wait was ended with a stirring win. Yet this season, with the exceptions of West Ham and Villa themselves, United had struggled to beat the better sides at home.