football

Paul Merson says: Worrying time for under pressure Erik ten Hag and Man Utd

In his latest column for Sky Sports, Paul Merson says Erik ten Hag could be under severe pressure at Man Utd with poor results against Chelsea and Liverpool this week following a 'shocker' of a performance at Brentford.

Man Utd's performance at Brentford was an absolute shocker. It was a real wake-up call.

A few weeks ago they are beating Liverpool in the FA Cup, getting to semi-finals and everything is great.

They just got destroyed by Brentford and were very lucky to escape with a draw. They made Thomas Frank's team look like Real Madrid.

Now they have got Chelsea on Thursday, and despite Mauricio Pochettino's side's struggles, United could easily lose at Stamford Bridge. Then it's Liverpool at Old Trafford and if United get beat in that one there could be mayhem.

It always goes back to the start with Manchester United. They win a game, they win another. Things look better but then they suffer a bad defeat or put in a horrific performance and we go back to the beginning.

Erik ten Hag always just seems to be able to keep his head above the water with a positive result in among the poor ones. The pattern over the last year has been get beat, lose again, but then get a win against a lesser team at home to keep the critics quiet. It feels like that is what it has been like during Ten Hag's tenure at Old Trafford.

However, this time around, there isn't a game for United to keep the manager's head above water. Chelsea and Liverpool are no free hits. They will have to produce much more than they did at Brentford to win at Stamford Bridge, and even more to beat Liverpool.

Ten Hag hasn't got a gimme this week so the pressure is on.

This is a worrying time for Man Utd.

Ten Hag could be under severe pressure this time next week if they can't get a positive result against either Chelsea or Liverpool. On the other hand, he could be an absolute hero if he can get another result against Liverpool.

I know United can probably point to a few injuries but it is hard to put your finger on what's wrong with them. You watch them sometimes and they can have a 10-15 minute spell in a game and you think, wow.

But then you watch a performance like the one on Saturday and it's unbelievable. You can't believe what you are watching it is that bad.

They are just too open at the back. There's no shape and also no patterns of play.

Any football needs to start from somewhere and you need a base. You need to draw a line and say we'll go from here, but I don't see that from Man Utd. It's hard to see what they are trying to do week on week.

Because it is Man Utd there are many that think of the United of 20 years ago and think they need to go out there and entertain, but this is not the same club at the moment.

So I'd say they've got build from a base, keep it tight at the back and play counter-attacking football again. That's what I thought they were really good at. They were one of the better counter attacking teams around with Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho hurting the opposition with their pace.

At the moment, when I watch them, it reminds me of the second half of extra-time in a cup game. It's wide open, the game is end-to-end and that's no good for Man Utd. They can't keep playing what I call hope football. They are just hoping for the best and hoping they can grab a win.

That's not good enough for Man Utd.

When Ten Hag was manager at Ajax, he was in charge of the best team. He could just open the game up and say you have a shot, we have a shot. More often than not they had the quality to come through and win 90 per cent of the games.

Is he trying to replicate that at Man Utd?

This is not Ajax and he's not in the Eredivisie now. The Premier League is a different animal and Man Utd aren't a dominant team in the league right now like Ajax were.

He's now got to take a step back and get this team back to where they were last season when they were superb on the counter.

There are also the rumours about who could come in at Manchester United should Ten Hag leave with Gareth Southgate linked to Old Trafford.

Those rumours generally don't come from nowhere. They are coming from somewhere and I didn't see much in the way of anyone denying it. No one seemed to nip it in the bud.

Of course, Southgate is still with England for the Euros and they have a great chance to go a long way at the tournament. But the rumours make me worry for Ten Hag.

However, football is a funny game. Things can change really quickly. A win against Liverpool on Sunday and all the pressure is gone again.