After the opening weekend of the 2022/23 season, few Manchester United fans chanted Erik ten Hag’s name.
Harry Maguire admitted they had gotten off to a ‘nightmare’ start after losing 2-1 to Brighton at Old Trafford and within six days the Red Devils were bottom after a 4-0 defeat by Brentford Place.
At the time, not many would have believed United would lose just one more home game all season and finish with the second-best home record in history.
They have beaten visiting Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and won 14 of their 18 home games before Fulham visited in their last league game of the season this Sunday.
After Thursday’s 4-1 win over Chelsea confirmed the Red Devils’ return to next year’s Champions League, mail port looked at how Erik ten Hag managed to turn Old Trafford into a fortress again.
Man United secured a place in next year’s Champions League by beating Chelsea on Thursday
After a shaky start, Erik ten Hag has helped the Red Devils have their most promising season in years
The Red Devils have won 26 home games this season – the second most in club history
How good were they?
United have won 26 home games in all competitions this season, losing only twice and not at all since October.
In terms of home form in the league, they are second only to champions Man City and have twice won five straight home games.
Only Alex Ferguson’s side, who won the league in 2002/03, have recorded more United home wins in a season, with 27 in a year in which Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 44 goals.
If the Red Devils matched their home form away from home this year, they would be a point ahead of City.
The fans are on the side
As ownership complaints continue to linger, while the Glazers’ sale of Man United drags on, Erik ten Hag seems to have won over the fan base in a way that other managers have struggled with.
He expressed his authority towards the club by refusing to back down in the clash with Cristiano Ronaldo and once again showed his strength by dropping one of his star players in Marcus Rashford for tardiness.
A club that has often been ridiculed in recent years has regained its competitive edge. They have already lifted a trophy this season by lifting the League Cup and could add another if they face Man City in the FA Cup final.
United fans saw a change at their club and got behind their players at Old Trafford. With fans back at 70,000, a rebound in home form was perhaps inevitable.
The additions of Casemiro (left) and Lisandro Martinez (right) gave United a pillar to build on
A solid spine
Ten Hag has no illusions that United’s side are ready to take on the title fight and said so after Chelsea’s win, but he was able to solve the biggest problems United are facing.
In a turbulent 2021/22 season, the Red Devils conceded 57 goals, 22 of them at home.
It was a different story under Ten Hag, with the arrival of Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro bolstering what was at times a shaky and disorganized side.
Both have become fan favorites and United looked a lot weaker with Martinez absent through injury and Casemiro suspended.
The Red Devils have conceded just nine goals in home games in the league this season, eight fewer than next-best teams Liverpool and Man City.
Local boy fires
Marcus Rashford scored his 30th goal of the season and 20th at Old Trafford on Thursday, becoming the first United player in a decade to achieve either of those two milestones.
In all, 13 of his 17 league goals have come at home and United are unbeaten in the home games in which he has scored, dropping just a point.
After a frustratingly volatile few years for the England striker, Ten Hag has found a way to get the best out of him.
Though injuries limit his playing time slightly, he is sixth in the Premier League goalscoring chart and has surpassed his career-best in all competitions by eight goals.
However, the striker’s lopsided record this season suggests United have a bigger problem.
Marcus Rashford has scored 30 goals for United this season, the first time in a decade
The away form has to change
Finding a way to win at home is an excellent start for any side, but United’s away form this season has become a real problem.
They have won just eight league games away from Old Trafford this season, with notable defeats at Brentford (4-0), Liverpool (7-0) and Man City (6-3).
Another promising Europa League season ended in a 3-0 away defeat at Sevilla and Ten Hag’s side are without a win in their visit to the current Premier League top nine.
Part of the problem comes from the way they deal with setbacks. United always seemed exhausted after conceding goals and without a home crowd behind them they seem to be struggling to keep their composure.
While home form has been impressive, United need to improve on their away record
Bruno Fernandes, a player who has consistently produced outstanding performances this season, has often been criticized for his body language in difficult away games.
Whilst veteran players David de Gea and Luke Shaw have both lost away points to their side’s sloppy errors.
The problem has been exacerbated by the time Casemiro, one of their best and most experienced players, has been off the pitch due to suspension.
Only four of the ten league games played without the 30-year-old have been United wins.
If Ten Hag is to transform a promising but faltering side into real title challengers, he must instill in his players the character to take difficult points – without the help of the Old Trafford crowd.