Ten Hag troubled by ‘deck of cards’ defense but Sancho shines in victory

Erik ten Hag has delivered a concise verdict on how Manchester United’s new amateur defense conceded to Melbourne Victory in five minutes here.

“It ends like a card game,” the manager said. “I don’t want to talk about the individual because I think it was from the start at the top of the pitch. It’s not an individual, it’s rather the team that made mistakes.

The final culprits were Luke Shaw, who was dropped on the pitch, and then Harry Maguire, who, not for the first time in his United career, looked unhappy. Ben Folami, operating in attack alongside Chris Ikonomidis, hovered over Victory’s right and returned the ball. This left Maguire gasping for air, his lack of pace making him unable to catch Ikonomidis who, after rolling, coldly beat Tom Heaton.

Heaton was playing in the absence of David de Gea, United’s number 1, who was replaced on Monday 4-0 win against Liverpool in Bangkok. Maguire took the place of Raphaël Varane.

Ten Hag said: “David – you saw against Liverpool he fell but he’s already training [on Thursday], he’s back on the training ground, no big worries. Raphaël Varane is also training but it’s something small and I expect him back on the training ground.

If the departure was unwanted, United dominated the rest of the competition – as they should for all the obvious reasons, plus Victory’s first pre-season outing after a fortnight in training.

“It was a totally different approach to the opponent,” Ten Hag said after his side’s 4-1 win. “They are very remote, very compact, so we had to create on our own. On the left side it was not so easy, on the right side I was quite satisfied and we created a lot on the right side: four or five very good chances. We reversed the game, it was the very good thing; we don’t stay down. We reacted and faced the setback.

Manchester United's Harry Maguire with fans at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Manchester United’s Harry Maguire with fans at Melbourne Cricket Ground. Photograph: James Ross/EPA

Jadon Sancho has again impressed the right to further suggest, after playing against Liverpool, that he could be the footballer United were hoping for when they signed last summer.

As half-time approached, Anthony Martial missed an easy header but Ten Hag had words of praise for the No.9. “I’m sure he can come back even better [than ever before]”, said the manager. “I think when he has the right concentration and the right motivation and he works hard, he will have production because he is a good player… It is up to him to decide.”

As Ten Hag’s 10 outfield changes for the second half warmed up, Scott McTominay hit the leveler. George Timotheou offered the ball to the midfielder, whose shot looped over Stefan Nigro. There was luck here, but only class about Martial’s strike that gave United the lead before the interval.

Sancho’s penchant for drifting in space through the lines gave him space to slice Victory’s defense in half and find Diogo Dalot outside on the right. The full-back tapped the ball in, Anthony Elanga assisted and Martial netted a second goal of the trip.

Ten Hag was careful not to praise Sancho only when asked about the 22-year-old England international. “I think the whole right side played very well because there is a good connection between Jadon Sancho and Diogo Dalot and Bruno [Fernandes], Martial and also McTominay,” he said. “I’m sure when we get to the season we’ll have even more – we need to have a threat from both sides. I said [after Liverpool] our left side was really good and now the right side.

“Now I want both sides and also the middle to work because if you want to be creative against low blocks, you need that and the threat has to come from everyone.”

Match action at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Match action at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Photography: Mike Owen/Getty Images

Heaton was United’s only survivor when the sides changed sides. Ten Hag had Donny van de Beek lined up as Martial’s replacement against Liverpool: here, Van de Beek replaced Fernandes as the No.10 – the Dutchman’s natural position according to the coach – as Amad became the new centre-forward.

Now Eric Bailly, in a near-replica of how he stepped up to create the fourth against Liverpool, marauded forward and delivered a killer pass – to Marcus Rashford, whose finish was calm.

For the final minutes, Nani came in for Victory. But, the former United striker saw Tahith Chong force an own goal from the unfortunate Edmond Lupancu.

Next up for Ten Hag’s men is Crystal Palace here on Tuesday. The manager is right to be worried about the backline. But that is the purpose of these friendlies: to identify and solve problems.

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