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Under Erik ten Hag, Manchester United has two new defensive captains 💪

Even though Harry Maguire was serving as Manchester United's captain, Lisandro Martinez felt like the defensive unit's captain against West Ham.

Lisandro Martinez

Martinez was outstanding for United once more, playing fearlessly and aggressively in defense, motivating his teammates, and using the ball brilliantly. He also spoke out in front of his own teammates and the referees.

Raphael Varane’s most recent injury and Victor Lindelof’s illness have put United’s defense under strain, but Martinez seems to be the one constant right now. He’s played with all three of them at least three times, and he always takes the lead with distinction.

Maguire was confident defensively in his first appearance in a Premier League starting lineup since the first two games of the season. He was forced into a few frantic lunges since his passing was nowhere near as quick as Martinez’s. The ambitious style of play adopted by United under Erik ten Hag occasionally forces the center backs to defend one-on-one, which is not Maguire’s strongest suit.

However, he executed the fundamentals well, which was certainly sufficient for England manager Gareth Southgate, who was watching. Martinez, however, stood out on defense.

In the second half, Gianluca Scamacca had one effort well blocked before he made a daring header and took a kick to the head from the forward. Although his hostility was nothing new, it occasionally prevented him from making dangerous strikes.

It’s contagious how eager the Argentine is to put in the grueling defensive work, dig in, and defend his teammates. David de Gea made a few superb saves, and Maguire rose to the occasion as United was pushed back in the second half.

Diogo Dalot

Diogo Dalot is another player who appears to be enjoying Martinez’s defensive philosophy. His future at United seemed quite dismal a year ago. He was unable to replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the lineup, and he hadn’t started a Premier League game since October 2019.

Dalot, a versatile full-back who checks almost all the boxes for Ten Hag, is now one of the first names on the team sheet after that run came to an end last December. The Dutch coach places a lot of demands on his full-backs, and Dalot has embraced the position by frequently sliding into midfield and posing a threat from wide areas.

Because of his development and Wan-absence Bissaka’s from the team, Dalot is the only outfield player to start every game under Ten Hag, yet Dalot is deserving of praise for the growth in his own game.

The part that stood out against West Ham was the defense. Dalot was essential to United’s ability to withstand intense pressure in the second half despite this not being a convincing United performance.

As the Hammers attempted an aerial assault, he frequently tucked in at the back post. Four times, the right-back won key headers in perilous situations, assisting United to hang on to a crucial three points.

The thought of United finishing in the top four appeared far-fetched when they were defeated by Brighton and Brentford in their first two Premier League games, but it is now conceivable that they could do so by the time the season is over for the World Cup.

United has made a fantastic turnaround, and they ought to aim higher than merely placing fourth this year. Although they are only six points behind City, Pep Guardiola thinks they are in the title battle. However, finishing second or third seems perfectly feasible.

The fact that United can see gains virtually every week under Ten Hag is the most promising factor, and there is no reason to believe that trend won’t continue in the second half of the season. Although it was a gritty victory, it was nevertheless a victory nonetheless.

In a season where Tottenham and Chelsea are struggling and Liverpool is seeing a sharp decline, United has an opportunity to reclaim their dominance and firmly establish themselves back in the top four.

Even though United has been entertaining to watch recently, particularly against Tottenham and Chelsea, this was a reminder that they are still developing under Ten Hag.

United has flourished this season against the stronger teams and occasionally controlled such games, but they have struggled against opponents who approached them with a more defensive mindset.

They struggle to break down those opponents, and their triumphs over Southampton, Leicester City, Everton, and West Ham were all decided by only one goal.

They’ve also had to withstand periods of pressure in some of those games, and their awful second-half performance against West Ham required a sizable defensive rearguard. The team led by David Moyes will be dissatisfied since they may have been due an equalizer.

Ten Hag was clearly irritated by United’s inability to control the second half against West Ham because he was getting more and more animated on the sidelines as his team routinely gave up possession for a cheap price.

This season, his subs have generally had a positive impact, although it might be argued that the choice to use Scott McTominay and Fred in this game encouraged pressure. Ten Hag would undoubtedly claim that he wanted greater control, but doing so just made United retreat deeper and give up territory in the middle of the field.

In the end, they owed their victory to a fortified defense and David de Gea’s outstanding goalkeeping.

It is impossible to argue that Anthony Elanga earned his spot on the team by hard work given that he hadn’t started a United game since September 8. Instead, it was evident that Jadon Sancho was playing his way out of the starting lineup.

Sancho has just returned to his shell after a great preseason and strong start to the season. He believed it was revealing that Fred, a midfielder, took over for him early in the second half at Stamford Bridge last week.

Sancho might have anticipated a break from playing against West Ham when Antony sustained an injury in practice, but Ten Hag’s selection of Elanga above Sancho should serve as a reminder to the £73 million winger, who is currently not performing at a level that justifies his price tag.

Early in the second half, McTominay took over for Elanga, and it is now obvious that Sancho still has work to do to reclaim his spot on this team.

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