Erik ten Hag hopes the return of key players in the coming weeks can help Manchester United deliver consistency after Tuesday’s stunning come-from-behind 3-2 win over Aston Villa promised to kick-start a new era at Old Trafford.
All the familiar problems that had seen Ten Hag’s side go four games without a win or a goal were on show in a poor first half as Villa were too easily able to score twice in the space of six minutes through John McGinn’s unchallenged free-kick and an unmarked Leander Dendoncker.
But United rallied in the second half with Alejandro Garnacho scoring twice before Rasmus Hojlund’s long-awaited first Premier League goal delivered a victory which, for all their problems, lifted United up to sixth two days after news of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s forthcoming investment was confirmed.
It was only United’s second win in seven games during December, but they have been without a list of players including Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia, all due back in January along with Victor Lindelof, and Ten Hag is looking forward to their return.
“So often we have to change the team,” he said. “You don’t get the routines. We know football is about solid performance and consistency and we know we have to make a step there, but I’m sure when we have more players available in the key positions we will get more consistency.”
Marcus Rashford made his first start since December 2, having initially lost his place to the in-form Garnacho before illness delayed his return. The England forward looked bright, forcing saves from Emi Martinez before setting up the first of Garnacho’s goals.
“I think he played very good,” Ten Hag said. “He was ill and also he had one or two games where we preferred to play Garnacho on the left side but he deserved it. There is internal competition.
“(On Tuesday) we played Alejandro on the right, that can be a solution, it can be fluid, but Rashford can also play on the right side.”
INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford was watching from the director’s box as Ratcliffe prepares to take control of footballing operations under the terms of his investment, and the win eased some of the growing pressure on Ten Hag.
Ratcliffe’s investment remains subject to Premier League ratification, but documents published by the New York Stock Exchange show INEOS’ influence will be felt immediately.
United must consult INEOS over any major sporting decision made during the ratification process, including player signings or if they wanted to dismiss figures including Ten Hag or director of football John Murtough.
Ratification is expected to take four to six weeks, a period covering most or all of the January transfer window.
United had trudged off to the sound of boos at half-time but the full-time whistle was greeted with a huge roar after a stirring second-half performance.
There were very different emotions for Villa, who were on course to end the night level on points with leaders Liverpool before it all unravelled in the second half.
Unai Emery’s side blew the chance to be top at Christmas when they were held by lowly Sheffield United on Friday, and this was another set-back as they try to cling to the momentum they have built in a superb first half of the campaign.
“Move on, be demanding,” Emery said. “I told the players that the first part of the season was fantastic but I want more. If they want more we have to work hard to get it.
“My mentality now is to focus on Saturday (at home to Burnley) and prepare the match as well as possible. We want to be better tomorrow than today.”