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Ten Hag doomed if Man Utd lose to Chelsea.

Ten Hag doomed if Man Utd lose to Chelsea.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has identified the men he wants to put Manchester United back on their perch. Dan Ashworth has already been placed on gardening leave by Newcastle and will become United’s director of football as soon as a compensation package is agreed with the Magpies.

A formal approach has also been made for Southampton’s Jason Wilcox, and the former Manchester City academy chief has reportedly offered his resignation at St Mary’s, so desperate is he to take up the role of technical director at Old Trafford.

Moves are being made, then, and a new era is taking shape at United – but we don’t yet know if Erik ten Hag will be a part of it. There were doubts over the Dutchman before Ratcliffe’s INEOS company formally took control of the sporting side of the club in December. They have only intensified in the interim, because while results have improved, the performances most certainly have not.

The ‘turning point’

The dramatic 4-3 victory over hated rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup quarter-finals was meant to be a “turning point” in a season that has already seen United knocked out of Europe completely after winning just one group game in the Champions League.

“Every team needs these moments in a ­season but we never had one,” Ten Hag said after Amad Diallo’s 120th-minute winner at a raucous Old Trafford. “This could be the moment that gives the team energy and the belief that they can do amazing things.”

It wasn’t, though. United were utterly atrocious in their very next game – last Saturday’s Premier League clash with Brentford.

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‘Criminal’ escape

A draw certainly represented an improvement on last season’s 4-0 drubbing at the Gtech Community Stadium, and United should have taken all three points given they took the lead in the 96th minute.

However, as Jamie Redknapp said afterwards on Sky Sports, an away win would have been “criminal”, as United had been “absolute rubbish” in the eyes of former captain Roy Keane. They weren’t wrong either. Brentford battered United from start to finish. The hosts had 31 shots – four of which hit the woodwork.

In the circumstances, a draw was actually a minor miracle for United, who have a chance to close the gap to Aston Villa and Tottenham, who are fourth and fifth respectively, by winning at Chelsea on Thursday.

On current form, though, United don’t look remotely capable of overhauling either side to qualify for next season’s Champions League (the Premier League should receive an additional spot based on results in this season’s UEFA competitions).

Unstable formula

United have faced 20 or more shots on 11 occasions in this season’s Premier League – only bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United have a worse record – and six of those onslaughts occurred in their last seven games. Ten Hag’s team actually managed to win four of those outings, but this is not a team dominating games or growing stronger as we approach the business end of the 2023-24 campaign.

On the contrary, an already underwhelming United outfit have been further weakened by injuries – particularly in defence – as the season has gone on and are, thus, capable of little more than eking out results through a mix of moments of magic from their few functioning forwards, good goalkeeping from the improving Andre Onana, and dire finishing from opposition strikers.

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It’s simply not a stable or sustainable formula for success. Eventually, United’s luck is going to run out, maybe even at Stamford Bridge, which would be the ultimate ignominy.

Embarrassment on and off the field

Chelsea are the worst-run club in football. Todd Boehly & Co. have managed to waste as much money in two years as United did in 10. They are the “billion-pound bottle-jobs”, an embarrassment on and off the field.

Last weekend, amid reports that they will have to sell off homegrown heroes such as Reece James and Conor Gallagher this summer to balance the books, Mauricio Pochettino’s painfully inconsistent and horribly unbalanced team drew 2-2 at home to 10-man Burnley.

And, in spite of all of their self-inflicted problems, which have left them flirting with Profit & Sustainability Rules (PSR) disaster and sitting 12th in the Premier League table, they could still finish in the European places. Indeed, were Chelsea to win all of their games in hand (a big ask, admittedly), they would be seventh. They would even draw to within five points of United – having played one match fewer – just by winning on Thursday night.

And the thing is, they have every chance of doing so – which tells you everything you need to know about the terrible shape United are in right now.

Outplayed and outfought

Despite the best efforts of Cole Palmer, Chelsea are renowned for the profligacy and yet, for all their flaws up front and lack of a world-class No.9, they convert more shots (12.6 percent) and put away more big chances (37.5%) than United (9.7%, 32.8%), who have scored a paltry 40 Premier League goals this season – fewer than every team down to 13th place.

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Make no mistake about it: even though Chelsea are very fragile mentally, they will be well up for this game – and Ten Hag will be praying that his players will be too. United may have shown impressive resilience in the cup win over Liverpool, but several key men went missing at Brentford, while others just didn’t turn up. Consequently, they weren’t just outplayed in west London; they were outfought too.

“Brentford were better than us today,” Ten Hag lamented in his post-match interview on Match of the Day. “They showed more passion, desire and determination as we did. Brentford were more focused and more aggressive – and it should be the other way round.”

Ruthless Ratcliffe

Nothing less than 100 percent effort will suffice at Stamford Bridge. Ten Hag’s job probably depends on it.

Despite their injury issues, United have a chance to put themselves back in contention for a top-four finish by beating a team that is far less than the sum of its parts and remains closer to the relegation zone than the top four. Should they lose, though, it’s almost impossible to see a United team performing so poorly making up 11 points on Villa – or nine on Spurs – over the eight remaining rounds of the season. And that would spell the end for Ten Hag.

Ratcliffe may be a United fan, but he’s also a ruthless businessman. He wants to win trophies and make money, meaning if there’s no Champions League at Old Trafford next season, you can be sure that Ten Hag won’t be either.

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