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Ten Hag under mounting pressure at Man United

LONDON – Manchester United have kept their season alive by reaching the FA Cup final, but only by the skin of their teeth, and that has left manager Erik ten Hag under more intense pressure.

The Red Devils beat second-tier Coventry City 4-2 on penalties on April 21, after escaping a humiliating 4-3 defeat in extra time thanks to the VAR (video assistant referee) which ruled out their opponents’ goal for offside.

Ten Hag denied it was an embarrassment, preferring instead to focus on the achievement of reaching a second straight final against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who won 2-1 last season.

But as the attention turns to their English Premier League home clash against Sheffield United on April 24, many feel that the Dutchman’s tenure at Old Trafford has all but ended.

The 54-year-old appeared to be on an upward curve in his first season in charge in 2022-23, ending a six-year trophy drought by lifting the League Cup and finishing third in the Premier League.

But any lingering goodwill has all disappeared as United limp towards the end of the campaign.

The beleaguered club, who are realistically out of the running to qualify for next season’s Champions League, have not won any of their past five matches – and may even find it a challenge to take on bottom-side Sheffield.

In four of those winless games, including the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, they have carelessly tossed away winning positions in the final few minutes and they are paying a heavy price.

“With Man United you don’t know what you’re going to get. They are inconsistent, they give (opponents) chances... that’s what they tend to do,” said former United captain Roy Keane, who stopped short of criticising ten Hag.

“I don’t see character in this group of players, I’m getting to the stage where I’m almost disliking them.”

United are engaged in a wholesale shake-up of their backroom team under new minority investor Jim Ratcliffe, who must make a decision on whether he has seen enough from ten Hag to give him another chance.

Unlike Keane, there are other pundits who have ripped into the United boss.

Former Chelsea forward Chris Sutton believes the manner of United’s performance at Wembley has sealed the Dutchman’s fate, saying: “That performance will cement his sacking at the end of the season.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher felt the same, adding: “I think that result has just cost a Man United manager his job. I don’t see how he stays, I don’t.”

Ten Hag can point to a punishing list of injuries to his defenders but must also take some responsibility for the way several key players – including Casemiro, Marcus Rashford and Antony – have badly underperformed this season.

Gary Neville, another ex-United captain, said that reaching the FA Cup final had at least saved United and ten Hag an “absolute battering” from critics, but he could not be certain about the manager’s future.

“What we can say is that Erik ten Hag’s future is largely dependent on the FA Cup, as their performances in the league are gone,” he said.

Ten Hag must now prove he has what it takes, starting with Sheffield. – AFP

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