Can Erik ten Hag mend Man United’s terrible record against Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool?

Five months after the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United are getting closer to appointing a new permanent manager, with Erik ten Hag widely regarded as the club’s first choice.

Some reports even claim that the Netherlands manager could be confirmed as United’s next manager as soon as this week. but not before a compensation package has been agreed with Ajax.

Ten Hag will come to Old Trafford with a glittering reputation. The 52-year-old is a two-time Eredivisie winner and on course for a third title this season. In addition, Ten Hag has guided Ajax to the semifinals and round of 16 of the Champions League.

His brand of dynamic, modern football delights United fans, but Ten Hag still have work to do to turn around a team that sits outside the top four of the Premier League.

MORE: Guardiola vs Klopp: Head-to-head record, history, trophies and the biggest matchups

To make matters worse, United’s historic rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, are leaders at the top of the English game. United’s record against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool (W3, D7, L5) is not a good read and needs to be addressed.

What is Manchester United’s record against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool?

date Venue contest result scorers
January 17, 2016 Anfield First League Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd W.Rooney (78)
March 10, 2016 Anfield Round of 16 of the Europa League Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United D.Sturridge (20)
R. Firmino (73)
March 17, 2016 Old Trafford Round of 16 of the Europa League Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool A. Martial (32)
P Coutinho (45)
October 17, 2016 Anfield First League Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd N / A
January 15, 2017 Old Trafford First League Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool J Milner (27)
Z. Ibrahimovic (84)
October 14, 2017 Anfield First League Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd N / A
March 18, 2018 Old Trafford First League Man Utd Liverpool 2-1 M Rashford (14, 24)
E. Bailly OG (66)
December 16, 2018 Anfield First League Liverpool 3-1 Manchester Utd S. Mane (24)
J Lingard (33)
X.Shaqiri (73, 80)
February 24, 2019 Old Trafford First League Manchester United 0-0 Liverpool N / A
October 20, 2019 Old Trafford First League Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool Michael Rashford (36)
A. Lallana (85)
January 19, 2020 Anfield First League Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United V van Dijk (14)
M Salah (90)
January 17, 2021 Anfield First League Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd N / A
January 24, 2021 Old Trafford FA Cup 4th Round Man Utd 3-2 Liverpool M.Salah (18, 58)
M Greenwood (26)
Michael Rashford (48)
B.Fernandes (78)
May 13, 2021 Old Trafford First League Man Utd 2-4 Liverpool B.Fernandes (10)
D.Jota (34)
R. Firmino (45, 47)
M Rashford (68)
M Salah (90)
October 24, 2021 Old Trafford First League Man Utd 0-5 Liverpool N Keita (5)
D.Jota (13)
M.Salah (38, 45, 50)

But how can Ten Hag achieve this? The quality gap between Liverpool and United is clear, so what does the Dutch manager need to do to close the gap?

defensive foundation

There’s little doubt as to where Manchester United are at their weakest – their defense has been vulnerable for a number of years. The Old Trafford side have conceded more Premier League goals (44) than any other Big Six team this season.

That was evident against bottom-placed Norwich City, as the Canary Islands fought back from 0-2 to 2-2. While United could still find a winner, the way Norwich were cutting through their defense was a cause for concern. “She [the goals conceded] were too easy,” said interim coach Ralf Rangnick. “We’re the only team in the league to concede goals like that.”

United often struggled to contain their runners against Liverpool. The Reds have scored no fewer than nine goals in their last two encounters in all competitions against their strong rivals, with Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah notably putting their rivals to the sword.

The signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid last year should remedy United’s lack of pace in defense but the Frenchman struggled with fitness in his first season in the Premier League, only starting in half of his side’s 32 Premier League games.

United also suffer from a lack of protection in midfield, where they are particularly weak. Fred has thrived under Rangnick but the Brazilian offers little barrier in front of the back four while Nemanja Matic leaves. Ten Hag may need to go to the transfer market to resolve this issue.

Redesigned midfield

United’s midfield unit has become something of an enigma in recent years. In some respects they are not lacking in quality: Paul Pogba is world champion and in his time one of the best of his position, while Bruno Fernandes is an irrepressible creative hub. Even Fred has proved himself after a difficult start in life at Old Trafford with three goals and four assists under Rangnick.

But United’s central unit has no structure. Fernandes and Pogba are yet to prove they can play together in the same midfield, while Fred alone isn’t enough to anchor the team and his partnership with Scott McTominay is functional rather than impressive.

This has resulted in United being overwhelmed in the middle of the pitch by Klopp’s Liverpool. They are often at a disadvantage numerically, but even when Liverpool and United meet there is a gap in intensity, commitment and quality between the two sides.

Paul Pogba Manchester United

At Ajax, Ten Hag usually sets his team up with a double pivot in midfield, but Edson Alvarez covers more space on the pitch than any other United central player. The Mexican is also excellent at deflecting opposition attacks and recycling possession.

In theory, Pogba could play a role similar to that of Ryan Gravenberch, an attacking ball carrier moving to Bayern Munich, for the Dutch champions but the Frenchman has previously been asked to play that way for United and has struggled.

An effective midfield combines a team’s defense with its attack, but United’s central unit hasn’t done this consistently for a long time. To get the blood pumping through the team’s veins again, Ten Hag must first get her heart beating.

Push from the front

Many expected Rangnick to adopt a high-pressing style when he took over as caretaker coach, but the German coach soon gave up due to a lack of physicality in the side he inherited.

Ten Hag isn’t asking his teams to press with the same intensity as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City or Klopp’s Liverpool, but he will ask United to be proactive when they’re not in possession.

Under Solskjaer, United frequently sat back and played on the counter-attack as they faced Liverpool. The problem was that they struggled to play from behind due to the Reds’ effective high pressing.

This is the advantage that a closed pressing strategy can have. Not only does it help teams create chances and score goals, but it also makes them a stronger defensive unit.

Liverpool have registered more attacking thirds (1,366) than any other team in the Premier League this season, according to FBref, while just three teams have registered fewer than United (910). The difference is clear: not only have Liverpool scored 27 more goals than United’s 52 in the league this season, they have also conceded just 22 goals, exactly half as many as their rivals. United’s inability to apply pressure has left them ineffective and exposed.

Mental strength

While Liverpool are one of the best trained teams in the Premier League, they are also one of the toughest mentally. The same cannot be said for the current group at United.

Ten Hag is set to inherit a squad that has been accused of checking out for the 2021-22 season. Recent performances have been underwhelming in part due to the players’ lack of commitment on the pitch. The new manager needs to get players to fight for him the way Liverpool players fight for Klopp.

Once Ten Hag can get his players to pull in the same direction, he will be able to communicate his ideas and methods more effectively. However, if the Dutchman doesn’t manage to win her over early on, he faces the same stubbornness as Rangnick.

Klopp has not only built one of the best teams in the country on the pitch, he has created an elite-level sporting environment at Anfield. That environment has seen players thrive at Liverpool and Ten Hag needs something similar at United.

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