The name Manchester United is synonymous with success and excellence in the footballing world, but many agree that the 2021/2022 was one of the worst in its recent history. With the announcement of former Ajax manager, Erik ten Hag, as the new Manchester United manager at the end of that season, many expected that the 2022/2023 season would mark the beginning of a new era. With the 2022/2023 season now ended, how does it compare to the 2021/2022 season?

Expectations were very high for the 2021/2022 season, especially with the return of five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, those hopes soon came crashing down as a series of loses resulted in the then manager, club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær being sacked. One of his assistants, Michael Carrick, another club legend, filled in temporarily before the arrival of interim manager Ralf Rangnick. Performances, however, did not improve and Rangnick had several public tellings-off for not just some of his players, but also the decision-makers at the club. The season ended with Manchester United missing out on Champions League football as they finished 6th in the Premier League. The only bright spot for fans, perhaps, was the announcement of Erik ten Hag as the new manager of the club.

About a year after, Erik ten Hag has steered the club back to the Champions League with a 3rd place finish in the Premier League, and although the club lost the FA Cup final to bitter rivals Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in their last match for the season, he still won the club its first trophy in six years with his triumph against 'a spirited Eddie Howe Newcastle side in the Carling Cup. But there remain question marks on the club’s supposed progress under Erik ten Hag, with heavy defeats in the hands of Brentford, Manchester City, and Liverpool. Here’s a broad look at the factors that shaped the manager’s first season and a general thought about his first year in charge:

Key statistics

Erik ten Hag’s first season sees him having the highest win percentage of any Manchester United permanent manager in the club’s history. He boasts a 67.2% win rate, while the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson and the mercurial Jose Mourinho trail at 59.7% and 58.4% respectively. This is largely fueled by the fact that this season, ten Hag steered the club (3rd) to its best defensive display in the Premier League since 1920, tying with Arsenal (2nd) as the third tightest backline in the league, bettered only by a tie of Manchester City (1st) and Newcastle United (4th). It’s also worthy of note that David de Gea won the Golden Glove in the Premier League with 17 clean sheets, at least three better than his closest rival, Alisson, who had 14. That’s in sharp contrast to the meagre eight earned in the 2021/2022 season, a season in which the club earned 58 points to finish 6th. Under Erik ten Hag this season, the club earned 75 points, 17 points more than last season, to finish 3rd. Across all competitions under ten Hag this season, the club recorded a total of 28 clean sheets.

Playing style, player profiles, and transfer business

For a manager who likes to either dominate teams or soak up press and unleash a powerful counter-pressing to overpower the opponent, it is important to have the right player profiles for his transitional play. This is why it was no surprise that Manchester United spent much of last summer chasing Frenkie de Jong, a former player of ten Hag’s and one whose passing range and ball-carrying abilities set him apart. It’s why it was no surprise that the manager was quick to make the pacy Marcus Rashford the face of his new era. It’s also why, despite winning the Golden Glove in the Premier League, David de Gea has received a lot of stick this season for how much his poor ball-kicking skills have hindered the team’s ability to play out from the back.

At the start of the season, the club secured the services of Lisandro Martínez, Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, Antony, and Casemiro, together with Martin Dúbravka who joined on loan. This in itself was not bad business as key positions were covered, but for team that either sold, released, or loaned out ten first team players in that same summer, one expected more. It makes it more puzzling that in the January transfer window that followed, only loan additions (Marcel Sabitzer, Jack Butland, and Wout Weghorst) were made, despite the club parting ways with Cristiano Ronaldo with the season well underway. It was a rather disappointing window for a team that desperately needed a world class striker at least.

To put this into proper perceptive, Manchester United replaced Cristiano Ronaldo with a loaned Wout Weghorst in the same window that rivals Liverpool splashed £45m on Cody Gapko; Newcastle paid £43m for Anthony Gordon and Harrison Ashby; Arsenal bought Leandro Trossard, Jakub Kiwior, and Premier League winner Jorginho; and (although this turned out to be the biggest disaster of the year) Chelsea shelled out over £300m for David Datro Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Joao Felix, Andrey Santos, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto, and World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez. Perhaps the fact that grades this shambolic window for Manchester United most succinctly is the fact that Wout Weghorst, the loan striker, recorded just one assist and no goals in fifteen Premier League appearances, ten of which were starts.

Number of games, player availability, and squad depth

A total of 26 players featured for Manchester United in the Premier League this season, but that include Facundo Pellistri, Kobbie Mainoo, and Donny Van de Beek who barely played any reasonable number of minutes. A total of 13 players missed more than five games with injuries, and that include key players like Anthony Martial, Antony, and Lisandro Martinez. There’s also the fact that Casemiro, who was described by ten Hag as the cement that holds the team together, missed a total of six matches through red cards.

In terms of match schedules, the team played a game every three and a half days on average for eight full months, having only five free midweeks all season. Across all competitions, Manchester United played 62 matches this season, making the club’s calendar the busiest of any team across Europe’s top five leagues. This feat also saw Bruno Fernandes play 59 times, making him the player with the most appearances in the 2022/2023 season.

The lack of squad depth was apparent, however, with Luke Shaw often playing at centre back position rather than his natural left fullback position. That’s not all. Jadon Sancho played left wing, right wing, and the Number 10 role. Tyrell Malacia moved from left fullback to right fullback. Diogo Dalot went in the opposite direction from right fullback to left fullback. Bruno Fernandes played across multiple roles on the field. And even Wout Werghorst dropped into the Number 10 position. All these pointed to the fact that the club was matching lofty ambitions with inadequate tools.

Discipline and authority

At a time when the club was in a dire need of goals and wins, not many expected that Erik ten Hag would be able to drop Cristiano Ronaldo who was last season’s top goal-scorer, but not only that. Following a controversial interview with Piers Morgan, the manager had Ronaldo suspended and subsequently released him from his contract. There was also news of Alejandro Garnacho being removed from the lineup for poor timekeeping on the pre-season tour, and Marcus Rashford (the team’s leading goalscorer at the time) being benched for being late to a team meeting. All these are in sharp contrast to the air of indiscipline that resonated through the club in the last six months under Ralf Rangnick. This level of decisiveness has marked Erik ten Hag’s reign so far, translating onto the pitch, and generally making the club a more attractive prospect for key players who would like to join as the coach himself boasts.

Club ownership

Perhaps the biggest cloud over the club since Erik ten Hag has been there is the uncertainty over its ownership since November 2022 when the Glazers first announced their planned sale of the club. Since then, the Glazers have hired Raine Group to oversee the sale process and several rounds of bids have been conducted. Two major frontrunners have emerged in the persons of Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and INEOS founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe. But despite earlier forecasts that a sale would be completed in time for the 2023 summer transfer market which opens for English clubs on June 14, the club’s ownership is still up in the air with no preferred bidder named up until now.

This situation was largely blamed for the shambolic transfer activities of the January market and could well affect preparations for next season. The manager is already being reported as largely unsure of his budget and how to proceed with the players he intends to bring into the club for the 2023/2024 season.

General verdict

It’s safe to say that Manchester United has made significant progress in Erik ten Hag’s first year. With the club winning its first trophy in six years, securing Champion’s League qualification, and progressing all through to the finals in the FA Cup, one can even say that perhaps he has overperformed, especially considering the limitations, the workload, and the fact that most pundits wrote the team off at the start of the season.

With that said, ten Hag and his players must be well aware that there is a lot of rooms for improvement. With nine defeats in the Premier League this season, club legend Dwight Yorke is one of those who have pointed out that Ole Gunnar Solskjær never fell to such a number in his time at the helm of affairs.

Quick action is needed in the transfer market to allow new players join the pre-season tour, and key positions, including a top-quality striker and a new ball-playing goalkeeper, are just some of the areas that must be secured before the 2023/2024 season begins.