Erik ten Hag defies odds and intense speculation to lead Man Utd to FA Cup glory

PA Ready, Erik ten Hag, Jim Ratcliffe, Manchester City, Premier League, Wembley, Defence, City, Lisandro Martinez, Marcus Rashford, Raphael Varane, Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro, Scott McTominay, Phil Foden, England, Louis van Gaal, Coventry, Liverpool

Erik ten Hag celebrates with Lisandro Martinez (right) at the final whistle (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

Erik ten Hag defied the odds and intense speculation over his future as Manchester United manager to mastermind a shock FA Cup final victory over arch-rivals and Premier League champions Manchester City on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency analyses the Dutchman’s performance.

Pre-match comments

If the reports suggesting he was about to be sacked had affected him, Ten Hag was determined not to let it show before the game. In a pre-match interview he insisted his focus was “on the game” and that was “all that matters”. He refused to discuss the issue, saying the day was “all about my team and winning the cup”. He was then all smiles as the teams were led out, but with Joel and Avram Glazer and Sir Jim Ratcliffe in attendance, he must have known the pressure was on him.

Selection

With Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez both fit and available again, the United defence had a sterner look to it than for a lot of the back end of the season. Ten Hag even said he had wanted “stronger defenders” to contain the threat of Phil Foden. There was some surprise Casemiro did not return to a midfield role after an ill-fated spell in the back four, but it transpired he was injured, despite initially being named on the teamsheet. Marcus Rashford was also included. That was an interesting choice given his poor season but Ten Hag was perhaps hoping the forward might want to prove a point after his England snub.

Tactics and decisions

Ten Hag tried to keep City on their toes by switching the positions of his players in the attacking line, notably with Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay operating as false nines at different times and Rashford sometimes coming inside. However, with City trying to dominate possession, it was soon apparent the main tactic would be to absorb pressure and nick something on the counter-attack. With the back line holding firm, this worked superbly in the first half. City were caught out a number of times by long cross-field balls, crucially for the goals. Another effort was disallowed and United even started to force errors from City. Defence was even more important in the second half but United passed the test.

Touchline presence

Ten Hag had no intention of hiding and was visible on the touchline throughout. Whatever his inner feelings, outwardly he looked calm and in control. He restrained his emotions after both goals, briefly holding his arms aloft and then allowing himself some modest fist pumps before taking a gulp from a bottle of water. Naturally, he was more exuberant come the final whistle.

Overall impression

If this is to be the end for him – like Louis Van Gaal in 2016 – Ten Hag has certainly gone down fighting, defying the pressure to deliver a pretty substantial parting gift. Given the hairy nature of some of their victories en route to the final, notably against Liverpool and Coventry, it was remarkable Ten Hag even had the opportunity to get his hands on the cup but, to his enormous credit, he took full advantage. Whatever his future, his reign at United certainly did not end in failure.

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