Victory in Sunday’s League Cup final against Newcastle United has seen Erik Ten Hag win silverware at the first time of asking with his new club.
As the fifth permanent manager of the post-Ferguson era at United, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a deep dive into how his start to life at the club has compared to his predecessors.
The man with the unenviable task of succeeding Ferguson, who left the club having won a league title, Moyes would immediately struggle in the job. By the time the League Cup final rolled around, he had seen his United side lose eight times in the Premier League already, three times more than Ferguson’s 2012-13 title winning side did in the entire season.
Moyes was also out of both domestic cups, having lost on penalties to Sunderland in the semi-finals, after the sides drew 3-3 on aggregate; and enduring a third-round FA Cup exit at Old Trafford by the hands of Swansea City.
The semi-final defeat was ‘largely abject’, and Moyes’ comments about “having to play” both the referees and the opposition in the aftermath of the first leg showed just how toxic the situation was becoming in his first season.
The club were sixth in the league, 15 points adrift of league leaders Chelsea, and above Everton, Moyes’ former club on goal difference, having played a game more than the Toffees. The last remaining hope for a trophy was the faint hope of European glory, with the Champions League providing Moyes some rare respite.
Having won their first four games in the competition, United were guaranteed to go through as group winners, and had been resting players in the final two games where they lost to Galatasaray and CFR Cluj. Their status as group winners saw them drawn to face Olympiacos in the Round of 16. Heavy favourites entering the tie, the first leg saw Moyes’ side lose 2-0, registering just a single shot on target.
That the manager of the Greek side, Michel felt he could stick the boot into his opposite number before the first leg, openly questioning whether Moyes’ side would ‘fold under the pressure of knockout football’, shows just how poor this United side were.
Moyes never recovered from his poor start and the writing was already on the wall by the time of the League Cup final in 2014. Though the club did not pull the trigger for another couple of months, few at this time thought Moyes would still be in the dugout at Old Trafford next season.
Louis van Gaal
Dutchman van Gaal arrived at the club off the back of an exceptional World Cup campaign in which he coached an extremely limited Dutch team to the verge of the 2014 final.
Fans’ optimism was bolstered when the club embarked on a spending spree, bringing in Angel di Maria, Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera amongst others. They also, for the first time since 1990-91, did not take part in any European competition, having failed to qualify, which should have allowed them to focus on the domestic front.
Despite this, United were unable to truly capitalise. They may have been third, a big improvement on the sixth place of Moyes, but still just five points better off than they were at this point last season.
Van Gaal’s reign got off to a poor start, with the humiliating 4-0 away defeat to MK Dons a particular lowlight; United crashing out of the competition at the first hurdle.
The FA Cup meanwhile saw more success, with United looking forward to the quarter-finals after beating Preston North End 3-1 at Deepdale in Round 5.
A mixed start but fortunately for van Gaal, fans and media alike had begun to truly appreciate the size of the task that faced the club, with Ferguson’s final title winning squad beginning to fall away and no serious plan to replace them. This realisation afforded van Gaal more time, and though he would not have success long-term, he would at least manage two full seasons with the club.
Next through the door for the 2016-17 season was Jose Mourinho, a controversial appointment owing to his famous celebration at Old Trafford as his Porto side knocked United out of the Champions League, followed by numerous years as the face of United’s main domestic rivals, Chelsea.
Fans though were starved for success after three years in the wilderness and to an extent welcomed the ambitious appointment. Three straight wins opened the season, but a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City at home followed by a 3-1 loss to Watford dampened expectations.
United stumbled through the next month, eventually losing to Chelsea 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. A low watermark for Mourinho’s first season which was immediately followed by just one defeat in domestic competition all the way up to and including the League Cup final (23 games).
Domestic cups were also not forgotten, with United advancing to the final of the League Cup, and like ten Hag, winning it, beating Southampton 3-2 with a last gasp winner from man of the moment Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Their only domestic defeat from November to this point came in the second leg of their semi-final with Hull City, a 2-1 loss which still saw Mourinho’s side advance 3-2 on aggregate.
The FA Cup was also on, with a 2-1 win at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers taking the side through to Round 6.
Mourinho also successfully juggled the Europa League, with some patchy results and rotated teams seeing them ease through a group containing Feyenoord, Fenerbache and Zorya Luhansk in second place. The draw pitted them against French side Saint-Etienne, who they duly swatted aside 4-0.
Of the three managers since Ferguson, Jose Mourinho had by far the most successful start, but a bitter and bruising second campaign where United finished a distant second behind rivals City would poison the atmosphere at the club, and the Portuguese manager was eventually dismissed mid-way through his third season at the club.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Something of an outlier in this list, the wildly popular former player Ole Gunnar Solksjær would be appointed interim manager, before being made permanent manager later in the season. Many questioned his lack of experience at this level, but he had some success, especially early on in his tenure.
Inheriting a side sitting in sixth place, just two points clear of a chasing pack including Everton, West Ham and Watford, Solksjær was placed into a difficult situation. The club was already out of the League Cup, so no comparisons can be drawn there, and the Champions League group stage was also over before he took over.
The Norwegian did have an instant impact however, taking a side which had won just one of their previous five games to eight wins in a row, his first eight games seeing a longer winning run than any of the seasons since Ferguson departed in 2013.
United were so far behind the pack (the gap to fifth when Solksjær took over was eight points) that despite huge success in the 10 Premier League games before the League Cup final, going unbeaten and only drawing twice, they only moved up one position, to fifth.
Their 52 points in this season do top the points tallies of all three previous permanent managers and is doubly impressive when considering the club sat on just 26 points from their first 17 games, Solksjær matching that tally in just his first 10 matches in charge.
A Round 5 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup continued the charge for silverware, and by this point in 2019, the only real blot on Solksjær’s copybook was the 2-0 first leg defeat by PSG at Old Trafford in the Champions League Round of 16.
Of course, being from the future, we now know that this would result in one of the more famous European nights in United’s history at the Parc de Princes, but that falls just after the League Cup final and cannot be counted here.
Solksjær’s initial time in charge was hugely successful and re-energised a flagging fanbase worn down by the toxicity of the later Mourinho years. A poor end to the season would however see renewed questioning of Solksjær’s capacity to coach at this level, questions the Norwegian would never quite put to bed before he was ultimately dismissed in 2021.
Erik ten Hag
Finally, we reach the present day. The second Dutchman in this group, ten Hag arrived after six incredibly successful seasons with Dutch giants Ajax, and was pitched, (as most of his predecessors were) as a long-term manager to build the club back to former heights.
It was an extremely inauspicious start for Ten Hag as he saw his new side suffer back-to-back defeats to open the season, including a humiliating 4-0 loss to Brentford. Harry Maguire lost his place in the side following that result, and though that is far from the only reason, it is not wrong to say that the club have not looked back since.
Sitting in third place on 49 points, not an especially impressive point tally compared to other seasons, however the point totals across the league have been lower this season, so this can perhaps be chalked down to increased competition. Unlike any of the previous seasons, United truly can be considered to be in a title race, though firmly on the outside for the time being.
Ten Hag made his intentions clear with the cup competitions, playing strong sides throughout and being rewarded with a very comfortable run to the League Cup final, where two quick goals at the back end of the first half saw ten Hag follow Mourinho in winning the first piece of silverware available to him.
The club remain in the FA Cup, ahead of a sixth round clash with West Ham at Old Trafford tonight, after beating second-tier Reading 3-1 in the previous round.
European glory is also on the cards, with a fantastic two-leg play-off against Barcelona seeing United edge it 4-3 on aggregate, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford taking them through following a pulsating 2-2 draw in the Nou Camp.
Optimism around the club is possibly at a post-Ferguson height, and the swirling rumours of a takeover, ridding the club of the hated Glazer family is only feeding into the positivity. Where this season will go for United remains to be seen, but Erik ten Hag’s start to life as Manchester United manager may well be the best of any manager in this new era.