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LONDON: Manchester United’s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag gestures on the touchline during the English FA Cup semi-final football match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in north west London. – AFP
LONDON: Manchester United’s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag gestures on the touchline during the English FA Cup semi-final football match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in north west London. – AFP

Erik ten Hag under intense pressure at Man Utd

LONDON: Manchester United have kept their season alive by reaching the FA Cup final for a second straight year but their chaotic display against Coventry leaves manager Erik ten Hag under intense pressure. United were cruising at 3-0 up against the Championship side with 20 minutes to go at Wembley on Sunday before their staggering collapse. The Premier League club had VAR to thank for escaping a humiliating 4-3 defeat in the final moments of extra time.

Victor Torp’s “winner” sent scores of United fans scurrying for the exits before they realized the goal had been ruled out for a marginal offside. Even then there was still time for more drama, with Casemiro failing to convert United’s first penalty in the shootout before they eventually prevailed 4-2.

Ten Hag admitted his team “got away with it” but denied it was an embarrassment, preferring instead to focus on the achievement of reaching the final against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. “I see we can play at very high levels but in the same match we can also go very low,” he said. “That’s not explainable. It has to do with managing the game. “I have to teach my players, clearly. We have to do better in such occasions. “On several occasions we’ve let the result slip away but today we got away with it.”

Character?

Harry Maguire, the only fit central defender at the club, said United showed “great character” to find a way past Coventry, managed by former Red Devils striker Mark Robins. But will Ten Hag be given the time he needs as he fends off a rising tide of criticism?

The Dutchman 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 but disappeared as United limp toward 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. In four of those, including the match at Wembley, they have carelessly tossed away winning positions in the final few minutes and they are paying a heavy price. “We’re having the same conversation every week,” former United captain Roy Keane told ITV. “With Man United you don’t know what you’re going to get. They are inconsistent, they give you chances, they always play in moments, that’s what they tend to do.”

He added: “I don’t see character in this group of players, I really don’t. I’m getting to the stage where I’m almost disliking them because I see what qualities they have.” United are engaged in a wholesale shake-up of their backroom team under new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe, who must make a decision on whether he has seen enough from the former Ajax boss to give him another chance.

Former Blackburn and Chelsea forward Chris Sutton believes the manner of United’s performance at Wembley has sealed Ten Hag’s fate, even though they edged through. “Erik ten Hag through to the Cup final but that performance will cement his sacking at the end of the season,” he tweeted.

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

United, seventh in the Premier League, will now focus on qualifying for Europe and preparing for next month’s daunting FA Cup final date with holders City, who beat them at Wembley last year. Ex-United captain Gary Neville, now a Sky Sports pundit, said United had saved themselves an “absolute battering” from critics but could not be certain about Ten Hag’s fate.

“If they’d have gone out... it would have been a shocking last three or four weeks to the end of the season,” he said. “Whether that changes the outcome of what happens to Erik ten Hag and the players is one thing, but what they have saved themselves is an absolute battering. They may get it for two or three days, but not four weeks.” United chiefs have a decision to make over the next few weeks and Ten Hag must prove he has what it takes. – AFP

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