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Erik ten Hag to stay at Man Utd: FA Cup win helps earn INEOS backing but for how long? Big improvement is needed

Erik ten Hag had looked doomed at Manchester United but that FA Cup win over Manchester City at Wembley has changed the mood. Will he be able to build on this belated backing? In The Debrief, Adam Bate takes a look...

The Debrief: Erik ten Hag's biggest problem at Manchester United remains the team's style of play
Image: Erik ten Hag is set to stay on as Manchester United manager after a 'full review'

When Manchester United were crushed 4-0 by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park at the start of May, there had appeared no way back for Erik ten Hag. Even the manager admitted that his team had been “easy to beat” – it felt like the end.

United had dropped as low as eighth in the Premier League table, where they would finish, their worst placing in the competition's history. With a negative goal difference to match the negative mood, even his backers had lost much of their belief.

There was some sympathy for the injuries that had robbed him of the opportunity to field his best team and an appreciation that off-field issues had complicated his two years in charge. Still, it did not seem enough to make the case for a third.

And yet, victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup final altered that view more than many might have imagined any one game could. United were deserved winners, Ten Hag executing his tactical plan to perfection in confounding Pep Guardiola.

The unexpected triumph meant that he had delivered a trophy in each of his first two seasons, something no United manager had done before, and, just as pertinently, something neither Guardiola nor Jurgen Klopp had managed either.

In doing so, it not only secured European football but, with the goals scored by two teenagers, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, it lent credence to the notion that Ten Hag was building something, that there was cause for optimism after all.

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We take a look at Erik ten Hag's highs and lows during his tenure at Old Trafford

Even his manner seemed to change. After offering so many excuses for the inexcusable, Ten Hag roused the club with his robust words. Essentially, he came out fighting, addressing the supporters on the pitch after the final home game of the season.

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"This season is not over yet," he told them. "First, we go to Brighton, where we travel for three points, and then we go to Wembley. And I promise you those players will give everything to get that cup and bring it to Old Trafford." They won both matches.

Emboldened in the aftermath of his FA Cup final victory, Ten Hag almost dared the decision-makers at United to find someone better. "If they do not want me, I go anywhere else and do what I did my whole career, winning games and trophies."

Whether any of this means that the club's new hierarchy have made the right decision in continuing with Ten Hag remains to be seen. While the past month has seen the Dutchman's reputation enhanced, the same cannot be said for their conduct.

Talk of a 'full review' sounded professional in theory but in practice it was an awkward process. The public pursuit of alternative options was messy, those apparently targeted so different in profile that it looked like a scattergun approach.

That the conclusion of their review now looks likely to result in a new contract for the man they had actively considered removing from his job speaks to the paucity of options rather than any great conviction in his work to date. Concerns remain.

What if options improve and results do not? This summer was an opportunity for a fresh start under new leadership. If United begin next season badly that opportunity will have been wasted. They will hardly be able to claim the warning signs were not there.

Ten Hag has much work to do to show that he can address the issues that have arisen on his watch, the extraordinary number of shots conceded being among them. There are those supporters still waiting for a clear style of play to emerge too.

Any kind of continuation of those problems risks this move eventually coming to be seen as wishful thinking rather than a cold analysis of the facts. Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his advisers really are invested now. He is no longer just the coach they inherited.

For now, as unlikely as it had once seemed, Ten Hag is their man. After plumbing the depths that night against Palace, it is some comeback already. If this were to prove a turning point as Manchester United rise again, it would be truly remarkable.

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