Why Ten Hag’s tough love approach is getting the best out of Marcus Rashford

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By John Percy

Marcus Rashford is the latest Manchester United player to experience the ruthless streak of Eric ten Hag, but there will be few complaints at Old Trafford.

Dropped to the bench for being late to a team meeting, after revealing he overslept, Rashford’s misdemeanour was swiftly forgotten with his 11th goal of the season propelling United into the Champions League places.

Ten Hag has already demonstrated his hardline approach since his arrival, coldly dispensing with Cristiano Ronaldo, and punishing his leading scorer could have been a risk with so much at stake.

Yet these decisions only underline Ten Hag’s growing impact at United, and clearly show that he is not concerned with reputations.

It is a tough, yet refreshing stance which is being rewarded. It is difficult to imagine Ten Hag’s predecessors Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick laying down the law in such drastic fashion.

Jose Mourinho’s tough love also failed spectacularly, particularly with Paul Pogba and Rashford, but Ten Hag appears to have found the perfect balance.

Rashford was introduced here at half-time to transform the game and sentence Wolves head coach Julen Lopetegui to his first defeat in English football.

It was a typically well-taken goal by the England forward, manufactured out of nowhere, and United have now won five consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since April 2021. They are also in the top-four for the first time this season.

As Rashford left the pitch at the final whistle, he was embraced by his manager.

“Everyone has to follow standards and rules, there has to be consequences or you can’t be successful. This was the right answer,” said Ten Hag.

“If you don’t follow the rules it transfers on to the pitch.  After the decision, Marcus came in and was bright, he was lively, he scored a goal. It was the right reaction.

“We made a good step today, it is the first time we’ve made the top-four but it means nothing.

“There is a long way to go, we have to live from game to game. You can win something this season, that is what we are aiming for, but it demands hard work.”

All was well between Marcus Rashford and Erik ten Hag at full time


Without Rashford in the first-half, it was also easy to see why Ten Hag is so determined to add another forward in the January transfer window.

Rashford’s direct running, and ability to stretch the game by dragging defenders out of position, was clearly missed.

United’s interest in Cody Gakpo was genuine but Liverpool’s speed in negotiations was unexpected and leaves Ten Hag running out of options.

Can they envisage a future without Rashford? He has 18 months left on his current contract but with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain keeping a close eye on the situation, United can ill afford him to leave.

While United are looking forward with renewed confidence, these remain worrying times for Wolves despite an improved performance under their new head coach.

They remain beneath the dreaded dotted line and Lopetegui urgently needs reinforcements to bolster his survival assignment.

Matheus Cunha, the Atletico Madrid forward, will be available for Wednesday’s Midlands derby at Aston Villa after signing on loan, but this Wolves team appears unbalanced and in need of some surgery.

Lopetegui said: “When you lose, it’s always difficult.  I think it’s a pity for the players because they have made a big effort against a very good team and we deserved more.

“We had five or six good situations to damage them but we have good chances. We have to improve, of course, but I am sure we can score more.

“I believe in my players but they have to believe in themselves. We have to have balanced thinking in the next match knowing that the only way is to keep working and to improve.”

Lopetegui was in constant motion in the technical area, yelling instructions to his players and wheeling around in frustration at every misplaced pass.

This was Julen Lopetegui’s first home match as Wolves manager

Credit: AP/Rui Vieira

Two years ago the Spaniard guided his Sevilla team to victory over United in a Europa League quarter-final, and his team recovered from a slow start here to impose themselves.

Wolves have struggled to score goals this season yet were positive and adventurous going forward, without ever testing David De Gea.

United should have taken the lead in first-half injury time when both Anthony Martial and Antony somehow failed to convert Garnacho’s cross from a few yards out.

It was no surprise to see Rashford warming up at half-time, and he was introduced for the second half with Garnacho, perhaps surprisingly, making way.

Wolves remained a threat, inspired by the speed of substitute Adama Traore, and De Gea produced a fine save to keep out Ruben Neves’s 25 yard free kick.

Yet Rashford only needed one chance. He had been virtually anonymous before firing United ahead 13 minutes from time, smashing the ball past Jose Sa from six yards.

Rashford thought he had claimed a second goal in the 84th minute but it was correctly disallowed for handball, following a Var review.

Wolves did launch a late wave of pressure, with De Gea saving from substitute Raul Jimenez, but they remain in deep trouble.

Source: telegraph.co.uk