Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag should be seriously concerned as poisonous whispers cause chaos | Football | Sport

There is an uneasy feeling that things are unravelling for Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford. The optimism of the Dutchman’s first season, which ended a six-year trophy drought at Manchester United, has been replaced by pessimism and rancour. The mood music has turned darker, the criticism more pointed.

Worse, for Ten Hag, there is a sense that he is losing control. Events are starting to spiral. After a listless performance at Newcastle in what was United’s tenth defeat of the season, tonight’s home game against Chelsea has an uncomfortable look about it.

The Premier’s League’s Hall of Mirrors derby pits two sides against each other that are warped mirror images of each other, given neither resemble what they should look like for the millions spent on them.

Chelsea haven’t won at Old Trafford in the league for a decade. They are even worse off than United this season, three places below them in tenth. But they have talented players with the capacity to destabilise a brittle United.‌

There was a sign of the pressure building on Ten Hag with the decision to ban four journalists from United’s pre-match press conference on Tuesday. Their collective ‘crime’ was apparently to fail to ring the club to hear their side of the story before writing well-sourced articles revealing splits in the United camp and concerns over the direction of travel under Ten Hag.

The picture painted though was of a club – and manager – lashing out having lost control of the narrative. There is only one way to win that back – win games. All football managers are control freaks and Ten Hag is no exception. He will have been seriously riled at the leaks.

But instead of shooting the messenger, he should be seriously concerned that players are briefing against him just as Sir Jim Ratcliffe is about to arrive. If the INEOS chief is to have control of football operations at United, as has been speculated, Ten Hag’s future is in his hands.

This season’s Premier League sacking amnesty officially ended with Sheffield United parting company with Paul Heckingbottom. There is a danger for Ten Hag that a fresh pair of eyes on United’s problems may leave him fatally exposed.

Ratcliffe will want to know whether his tactical acumen is up to the job but just as importantly his man management. Has the disciplinarianism, which was widely praised in ridding United of Cristiano Ronaldo last season and in sidelining the rebellious Jadon Sancho this season, started to wear thin?

United are clearly not the sum of their parts. The Dutchman has no defence that he is presiding over someone else’s team. Including loans, he has made 16 signings in his 20 months in the north-west of England at a cost of £400m.

‌These are largely his men. Yet the poisonous whispers are coming from some of them. The Premier League’s battle of the wealthy misfits tonight will provide a window into what is really happening behind the scenes at Old Trafford.

‌United fans do not have to enjoy a glorious flowing performance – although it would be nice if, miracle of miracles, it happened. What they require is evidence that their team are playing for the shirt – and the manager.

If not, then Ratcliffe’s biggest decision has already been made for him.

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