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5 things Man Utd fans can learn about Erik ten Hag from Ajax’s draw at Benfica


Erik ten Hag is among the candidates to be the next permanent manager of Manchester United following his outstanding work in Amsterdam, but Wednesday night saw his Ajax side slip up for the first time in this season’s Champions League, away at Benfica

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Erik ten Hag saw former West Ham striker Sebastian Haller score at both ends as Ajax drew 2-2 with Benfica in the Champions League last night.

The Dutch league leaders will be favourites to reach the quarter-finals after a brilliant match in the Stadium of Light, having twice led and been the dominant side.

Ajax could have killed off this tie in the first half and kept pushing forward after the break – only to allow the Portuguese side to equalise on a 4 vs 3 counterattack.

The draw in the Portuguese capital is the first game in this season’s competition which the Dutch side have failed to win, having cruised through the group stage with six wins from six, further enhancing the reputation of their manager.

Ten Hag, who took the Amsterdam club to the semi-finals in 2018-19, is among the candidates to take over at Old Trafford next season.

So what did we learn about him – and his team – last night?







Erik ten Hag points the way during the 2-2 draw with Benfica
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NurPhoto/PA Images)

Pre-match mind games

The Dutchman was respectful and unflashy before facing the Lisbon team who are struggling down in third place in the Portuguese league.

“This is a fantastic club,” he said. “They live and breathe football here. It’s a wonderful stadium.

“In the Netherlands we may be favourites, but we’re not favourites here in Portugal. Being Favourites? That doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s decided on the pitch.”

Formation and tactics

Ajax play 4-3-3 with former Southampton star Dusan Tadic and Brazilian winger Antony playing on either side of centre-forward Haller.

In possession, they play a fluent, possession-based style of football and have scored 70 goals in 23 Eredivisie games this season while only conceding five. They also press high with no team in the Champions League winning the ball back more in the final third than the Dutch side this season. This was shown when right-back Noussair Mazraoui dispossessed Benfica left-back Alejandro Grimaldo before crossing to set up Tadic’s 18th-minute opener.

Former Manchester United star Daley Blind is crucial. Ex-Ajax player Wesley Sneijder told Dutch TV: “He generally starts the match at left back but because Ajax put a lot of opponents under pressure, he has something of a free role and generally plays further up the pitch, often functioning as an extra midfielder.

“He rarely gets himself into trouble, because his positioning is always so good.”







Dusan Tadic continues to shine under Ten Hag’s watchful eye
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NurPhoto/PA Images)

His touchline behaviour

The Dutchman was dressed smartly in a shirt, round neck jumper and jacket last night. He remained calm and composed for most of the game and remained with his hands in his pockets after Tadic’s splendid volley.

He only became annoyed in the 90th minute when Slovenian referee Slavko Vinčić stopped play to allow Benfica defender Gilberto to be treated from cramp after Ajax took a quick throw-in pushing for a winner.

But does he have a keeper blindspot?

The Ajax boss again picked Dutchman Remko Pasveer ahead of Cameroon keeper Andre Onana – back from a ban but out of contract and set to leave this summer – but the 38-year-old Dutchman was at fault for Roman Yaremchuk 72nd-minute equaliser after failing to deal with a long-range shot.

BT Sport analyst Chris Sutton said: “That is a big mistake. The goalkeeper was brought in by Ten Hag because he is good with his feet.

“I think Onana is a better shot-stopper than him. Champions League knockout tie and he palms it up – it is a poor mistake from the goalkeeper.”







Benfica became the first side to stop Ajax winning in this year’s competition
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AFP via Getty Images)

Is Ten Hag’s approach too gung-ho?

Ajax dominated the first half but Benfica were better after the break.

Yet even leading 2-1 away in Europe, the Dutch side kept pushing forward for a third goal and were outnumbered at the back when the Portuguese scored their late equaliser. Only then did Ten Hag make two subs, including the introduction of former Everton player Davy Klaassen.

BT Sport co-commentator Steve McManaman said: “That would be my only criticism of Ajax tonight. You could see that they were under pressure but they didn’t change the game, they didn’t become more compact. They didn’t become difficult to break through.

“They kept on playing. They were very, very open and they eventually got caught. You have got to shut up shop sometimes. They have been far too open in the second half, particularly when you are not on top.”

But Michael Owen said: “They are so fearless and it will cost them sometimes but at the other end it will give them more chances to score.”

Were Ten Hag to get the top job at Old Trafford this summer, would he need to evolve and perhaps become more pragmatic?

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