The mood at Manchester United changed dramatically from desperation after losing the first two games to wild optimism after four straight wins.
The last two games at Old Trafford have brought resounding victories over Liverpool and league leaders Arsenal, lifting Erik ten Hag’s side off the foot of the Premier League table and into fifth place.
Sportsmail takes a look at how United’s new manager has engineered a remarkable turnaround to get his side back on track.
Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United now sit fifth in the Premier League after dismal start
The most damning aspect of United’s miserable start to the season was that the Ten Hag side ran eight-and-a-half miles short of Brentford as they were humiliated 4-0. The Dutchman ordered his players to train the next day to cover the extra mileage, and the message clearly hit home as there has been a lot more effort since then.
After clocking a team total of just 59.4 miles against Brentford, United went 70.7 miles against Liverpool and 64.6 miles in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal.
Ten Hag told the players he wanted actions rather than words, and earned their respect by accepting his share of the blame for Brentford’s loss and completing the punishment himself.
Lisandro Martinez has been excellent in central defense since United’s 4-0 draw against Brentford
A lack of physicality and combat was one of the weaknesses highlighted by caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick last season, and it contributed to Brighton and Brentford’s defeats in Ten Hag’s opening two games. But United have appeared to be a more combative and cohesive unit since then. Players fight for each other and tackles are regularly followed by high-fives and chest bumps.
In Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia, Ten Hag has signed two fierce competitors he knows well from the Netherlands and is rubbing off on their new teammates. Scott McTominay, in particular, played like a possessed against Arsenal.
Defender Diogo Dalot said: “It comes from the messages that the manager gives us, but the main thing comes from ourselves: to be at this club, you have to fight for it.” You have to fight for 90 minutes each game.
It’s no surprise that United lead the Premier League with 20 yellow cards after six games. At this rate, Ten Hag’s team could finish the season with the best average in the history of the competition.
Tyrell Malacia proved to be a fierce competitor and kept Luke Shaw off the team
Despite signing Christian Eriksen, Martinez and Malacia, the transfer window risked becoming flat for United due to their unsuccessful pursuit of Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona and attempts to lure substandard targets such as Marko Arnautovic from Bologna. .
The decision to spend an extra £155m on Brazilian duo Antony and Casemiro put a different spin on United’s summer spending, which soared to £229m last week, the club’s highest in a single window. Suddenly, it looks like a team that can compete with its rivals.
It turned out to be money well spent. Eriksen and Martinez have been two of United’s best performers and Malacia is keeping Luke Shaw out of the squad.
Antony scored on his debut against Arsenal and United have every reason to hope Casemiro will do the job he had planned for De Jong.
Antony began to justify his price tag with a goal on his United debut at the weekend
Questions have been asked about Eriksen’s role at United after signing as a free agent, but the Dane has been exceptional after a rocky start.
A false role of nine against Brighton didn’t work, nor did a deep midfield position when he returned to his former club Brentford.
Ten Hag made a slight adjustment against Arsenal by pushing Eriksen further forward – “we put him on the pitch a bit more like a No.6 / No.8 role”, he said – and that has does the trick. The 30-year-old has excelled in recent games, culminating in Sunday’s man of the match display. United are moving the ball faster and Eriksen is ready to do some of the dirty work alongside McTominay, Casemiro or Fred.
He also brings out the best in Bruno Fernandes, with the two combining brilliantly to create United’s second and third goals.
Christian Eriksen has teamed up brilliantly with Bruno Fernandes so far this season
RASHFORD IS REBORN
One of the reasons United appointed Ten Hag was his ability to improve players, and there were many at Old Trafford who were playing below their potential.
Neither is Marcus Rashford, but the United No.10 is brimming with confidence and rejuvenated in a central role. The striker’s brace against Arsenal took his tally to three in four games, not to mention an assist for Antony’s opener on Sunday.
Less than a month after it emerged Rashford’s representatives had held secret talks with Paris Saint-Germain, the 24-year-old is in fine form for his club and knocking on the door for a recall to England .
Marcus Rashford appears to be back to his best and could return to the England side
Ten Hag responded by seeing his defense torn apart by Brentford and Brighton chopping captain Harry Maguire. It was a bold call, but it paid off.
With Maguire on the bench, Martinez formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Raphael Varane. The pace and tenacity of Malacia and Dalot at the back helped turn United into a much tighter defensive unit. After scoring six goals in those first two games, Ten Hag’s side have conceded just two in the last four outings.
Additionally, the decision to bench senior players such as Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo has set a marker for the rest of the squad that no one is immune.
Cristiano Ronaldo was brought on shortly after half-time but couldn’t find the net
RON BY SIDE
The Ronaldo saga overshadowed Ten Hag’s first few months in charge, but the Dutchman appears to have won his battle of wills. United have resisted Ronaldo’s attempts to force a move and hope the closing of the transfer window will put an end to the problem.
The Portuguese star spent most of the summer brooding but was happy to join in the sideline celebrations when Antony scored against Arsenal.
Ten Hag’s decision to start Ronaldo off the bench so far and use him as an impact substitute has helped assert his authority.
“I will be his friend, sometimes I will be his teacher. It depends on the situation,” he said rather ominously over the weekend.
CHRIS WHEELER: Erik ten Hag revived Manchester United in just a few weeks