Five things Man Utd must do to go from sleeping giants to Premier League dreamers as Ratcliffe prepares to take control

AS he wandered the corridors of Old Trafford, Sir Jim Ratcliffe was very careful not to betray any of his thoughts or plans for the future.

He hid behind the fact his 25 per cent buy-in at Manchester United has not yet been fully ratified by the Premier League.

Erik ten Hag is currently the man tasked with turning Manchester United into title challengers


Erik ten Hag is currently the man tasked with turning Manchester United into title challengersCredit: PA
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has agreed to buy a 25 per cent stake in the Red Devils


Sir Jim Ratcliffe has agreed to buy a 25 per cent stake in the Red DevilsCredit: AFP

That is expected to happen in the next three to four weeks.

But he immediately has the final say on all aspects of the football side of the commercial monster that is this United.

You cannot help but feel he is buying himself some time to make a decision on Red Devils manager Erik ten Hag.

That must leave the Dutchman feeling much like a Ralf Rangnick-esque interim.

And we all know how that quickly disintegrated as German Rangnick called for “heart surgery” to be performed on the club.

It would appear United are still on the waiting list for that operation.

They currently sit seventh in the Premier League, eight points off fourth-placed Arsenal having played a game more.

United’s next match is a week on Sunday, away to Eastleigh or Newport County in the FA Cup fourth round.


With Prem fixtures on the road at Wolves, Aston Villa and Luton, plus home clashes with West Ham and Fulham all before the end of February, there should be every chance to impress.

United beat the toughest of those opponents — Villa — at home on Boxing Day, fighting back from 2-0 after 26 minutes to win 3-2.

That was the first game after Ratcliffe’s £1.03billion purchase of a quarter of the club was announced.

SunSport revealed Ineos billionaire Sir Jim has already spoken with jobless Graham Potter, the former Chelsea and Brighton boss.

But what really needs to happen is for Ratcliffe to come out and give Ten Hag his full backing. Now.

The pair have already met and anyone who meets 53-year-old ETH cannot help but be impressed by him.

Former chief executive Richard Arnold and director of football John Murtough certainly were when they went to Amsterdam to meet the then Ajax boss as they searched for someone to succeed caretaker Rangnick.

None of the other candidates had done the research Ten Hag had on what was wrong with United — and what needed to be done to get the club back on track. Arnold and Murtough came out of the meeting feeling like two naughty schoolboys as he laid bare United’s failings.

Ten Hag has come under pressure during his time at Old Trafford


Ten Hag has come under pressure during his time at Old TraffordCredit: Getty

But they were also convinced he was the new headmaster who would have the control Sir Alex Ferguson had.

That is something Fergie himself has privately claimed.

The control to get rid of Cristiano Ronaldo, to exile Jadon Sancho.

The control players respect because it is clear this man is the boss.

Unfortunately, right now, nobody knows if he will still be in charge by the end of next month, never mind the end of the season.

The way he had the team playing at times last term was as good as we have seen in the last ten years — since Sir Alex retired in 2013.

He won the Carabao Cup — the club’s first silverware in six years — reached the FA Cup final and finished third in the league.

But as Ten Hag says, when it comes to United “good is not good enough”. There is no doubt that had Lisandro Martinez, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw been fit this season then things would look very different.

Likewise, if Casemiro had the consistent run of games he needs to be at his best.

But the prosecution can point to the £204.7million it will cost for Antony, Rasmus Hojlund and Andre Onana and ask: “Why?”

United played out a 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham on Sunday


United played out a 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham on SundayCredit: Getty

With Onana now at the Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon, we will soon find out if United will miss him.

Ten Hag knows Antony can be much better than he has shown.

And there was evidence in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham that Hojlund is starting to find his feet and that an understanding with Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes is growing.

If Rashford can get his head straight, we all know he is one of the best talents in the English game.

There are flickers of an identifiable style of slick counterattacking football beginning to form.

As Ten Hag himself made clear on Friday, the pressure and expectation at United is greater than anywhere else.

It might be this season is sacrificed as he continues to plot a path to sustained success.

Ten Hag has a contract until summer 2025 and he should get a new one now to show the club have faith in him.

It is time to back the boss, big time.

With Manchester United 13 points off the top, SunSport’s Neil Custis looks at how the sleeping giants can become title dreamers again…


Ten Hag has struggled with injuries in defence this season


Ten Hag has struggled with injuries in defence this seasonCredit: Getty

Due to illness and injury, Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag has fielded TENdifferent centre-back partnerships already this season.

He has also been without Luke Shaw — considered one of the best full-backs in Europe.

Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez finally teamed up again during Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham.

And there is no doubt that if they get an injury-free run together, things will look much better at the back.

With those three and one from Diogo Dalot or Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right, they can boast one of the Prem’s best back fours.


Rasmus Hojlund is starting to hit his stride in front of goal


Rasmus Hojlund is starting to hit his stride in front of goalCredit: Getty

There is evidence that an understanding is starting to build between Marcus Rashford and summer signing Rasmus Hojlund — with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings as a No 10.

Hojlund broke his Prem duck with that emotional winner against Aston Villa on Boxing Day and it looks to have filled him with confidence.

He hit a cracking third-minute opener against Spurs on Sunday.

If the 20-year-old Dane continues to grow into his role and Rashford finds his scoring boots again, United will be a real threat up front.

Still, you feel United must go big on a top-class No 9 this summer.


Andre Onana was signed to replace David de Gea in the summer


Andre Onana was signed to replace David de Gea in the summerCredit: Getty

There is little doubt that had David De Gea still been in goal for United they would be looking forward to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The £43.8million Andre Onana is not a good like-for-like replacement.

His so-called distribution skills are hardly those of Ederson.

Even if they were, United just cannot play out from the back with any certainty.

And it will be interesting to see if Altay Bayindir provides a viable option with Onana at the Africa Cup of Nations, otherwise the club might have to think again in the summer.


The United supporters could be key to their club's on-pitch fortunes


The United supporters could be key to their club’s on-pitch fortunesCredit: Getty

The ground itself is crumbling and the players do when the pressure is on in front of their own fans.

Ten Hag and Co need to make this famous old ground a place opponents fear again — not those in United shirts themselves.

So far this season at ld Trafford the Red Devils have lost four league games — plus two in the Champions League — and exited the Carabao Cup with a 3-0 loss to an under-strength Newcastle.


Ten Hag's current United contract expires at the end of next season


Ten Hag’s current United contract expires at the end of next seasonCredit: EPA

Ten Hag is the fifth permanent boss in the last ten years, alongside two caretakers and one interim gaffer.

The club is back at square one or maybe even further back than that.

Change does not bring the long-term stability required, which is why the club need to publicly back the Dutchman now with a new contract.

The board must have faith that what convinced them to employ him in the first place will finally lead them towards a return to the top.

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