Erik ten Hag took over a Manchester United squad devoid of confidence and discipline. At one point under Ralf Rangnick, it became a widely accepted view that the Red Devils are going to need years to catch up with their rivals.
But the Dutchman only needed his third official game at the helm to show his squad do have enough quality and confidence to outplay any opponent on their day – this time it was Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Amid intense pressure, his players stepped up to grind out a 2-1 win over Jurgen Klopp’s men, who thrashed them 9-0 combined last season. But even that performance came on the back of Ten Hag’s strong team selection, which underlined there’s only one man in charge at the Theatre of Dreams.
The 52-year-old made the bold call to drop Cristiano Ronaldo as well as club captain Harry Maguire against Liverpool following back-to-back defeats in the opening two games.
Ahead of the reverse fixture on Sunday, Ten Hag admitted he was aware of the possible reactions to his decision, but he lost no sleep over it.
“I had reasons to choose that team against Liverpool. They were obvious. And I knew the reaction if it had been a negative outcome, which is always possible in football,” he said.
“But I am not worrying. I sleep well also in those nights. I have to take the decisions in respect of the club and the team. I have to stand by those decisions.”
Ronaldo refused to accept the squad role and saw his time at the club end sourly. Maguire, meanwhile, has done a fine job whenever called upon.
Going into the game at Anfield, United are 10 points ahead of Liverpool with one trophy already in the bag. Fair to say, Ten Hag’s decisions, including benching two of United’s biggest players, have worked just fine, to say the least.