Pressure mounts on Man United boss Erik ten Hag as Bayern Munich clash looms
LONDON – Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is starting to feel the heat from frustrated fans following a disastrous start to the season that has left hopes of English Premier League glory already looking forlorn.
For the first time in the Premier League era, United have lost three of their opening five games and face a daunting task to open their Champions League campaign away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Ten Hag – who was credited for returning the Red Devils to the Champions League by finishing third in the Premier League last season and winning the League Cup – had been sheltered from criticism in the early weeks of the campaign amid a series of off-field issues.
The sale of the club is in limbo, winger Antony has been given a leave of absence to fight domestic abuse allegations, while fellow forward Mason Greenwood has been loaned to Spanish side Getafe after United fans protested against his return as his attempted rape charges were dropped.
Ten Hag had little control over those problems. But he was the target for a chorus of boos when he substituted new striker signing and fan favourite Rasmus Hojlund midway through the second half against Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend, especially when United lacked firepower and lost 3-1 in the end.
Ultimately, patience is wearing thin among fans, as it usually is when the team are on a poor run, and it could be worse if United suffered another defeat on Wednesday.
“It’s about character. We need character, belief, resilience, determination. We have to see how strong we are, how the team sticks together and which players are standing up and leading the team,” ten Hag said when asked when he wants to see from his players for the Bayern clash.
“Bayern Munich is one of the favourites to win the Champions League, so we have to be good there.”
To add to United’s woes going forward, winger Jadon Sancho is also absent from first-team action indefinitely due to a spat with ten Hag, while there are about nine players injured or not up to full fitness. With all these issues, the pressure is on the manager to lift the mood in the club with an upturn in results on the pitch.
But United will probably face the toughest of tests on Wednesday.
Despite domestic dominance which has seen Bayern win the past 11 German Bundesliga titles, the club judge themselves on their performances in the Champions League.
Since winning in 2020, Bayern have been eliminated at the quarter-final stage for three straight years. These early eliminations led to the exits of former managers Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann.
Current boss Thomas Tuchel, who is suspended on Wednesday, is aware that making it at least to the semis is considered par for the course for Bayern.
While this understanding is not new, the €100 million (S$145.7 million) addition of England striker Harry Kane makes winning now a necessity, starting with United.
Former Chelsea manager Tuchel, though, is taking it step by step.
“Their results so far don’t say much about them. You can never be sure in a game against United. When you think you’re in control, they can rely on their outstanding transition game, with Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and now Rasmus Hojlund up front. We can never switch off. United are always dangerous,” he said.
“We need everyone in the squad to have strong mentality. No player has his playing time written in their contract. Everyone gives everything to play.”
Kane, for one, is likely to give his all. He has also shown few difficulties adjusting to life in Germany, having scored four goals in his first four league matches.
The striker is looking forward to “something special” in his first Champions League match for Bayern, but he also warned against taking United lightly.
“United are currently going through a difficult phase. We expect a reaction from them. Sometimes teams like that are dangerous because they’re looking to come back in a big way,” he said. AFP