Gary Neville paid tribute to the “unbelievable” job Erik ten Hag is doing at Man Utd to foster a team spirit at the club again after so many years of dressing room issues.
United are now a point behind second-placed Manchester City after beating their rivals on Saturday lunchtime and racking up a fifth consecutive league win in the process.
They did so in the absence of two of their regular first-choice back four and still lacking striking options as Wout Weghorst did not join sign in time to feature.
Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcastsformer Man Utd defender Neville explained how impressed he had been with the turnaround Ten Hag has overseen at Old Trafford since his appointment last summer.
He said: “If you’d said to me United would’ve had a back four of Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw at centre-back, with Malacia at left-back, and a front three of Bruno, Martial and Rashford – seven or eight months ago, I’d have said United were in big trouble.
“Erik ten Hag is doing an unbelievable job there. He’s still got a team that looks, on paper, well below what it needs to be. But he’s extracted everything he needs from them.
“Casemiro in midfield, big signing. It was a really good decision from Ten Hag to put Fred in [against City]. That United midfield at the Etihad earlier in the season was McTominay, Eriksen and Fernandes, putting another solid blocking player in with Fred was a masterstroke.
“It meant the game was more difficult for City, and Casemiro has been absolutely outstanding. Authority, composure, Man Utd’s midfield was the problem for many years, and actually that’s their strongest part of the team and instead they need additions at the back and upfront.”
Since a chastening 4-0 defeat to Brentford in Ten Hag’s second game, United have dropped only 10 points across 16 matches, beating Liverpool, Arsenal and now neighbors City along the way.
On the back of that embarrassing reverse in west London, the new United boss forced his players into extra training to run the distance further Brentford had covered during the game than his players, totaling more than eight miles.
That was the first sign of Ten Hag looking to stamp his authority on his new club, but not the last. Cristiano Ronaldo has since left the club after a bombshell interview with Piers Morgan, while the Dutchman has also decided to leave club captain Harry Maguire out of his line-up for the majority of their league games.
“I thought it was a risk at the time when I heard that story, you know what players are like and there was the spirit at the time,” Neville said.
“I’m mesmerized by the job Ten Hag has done. If you’d have said to me four months ago this is where Man Utd will be, I’d have said no chance.
“I’d have said they’re finishing halfway down the table, the way they were. Coming off the back of last season, the start of this season, I thought they were absolutely nowhere near. I thought they overpaid for Antony, I thought they overpaid for Casemiro.It looked like the usual Man Utd panic.
“So it’s worth noting in moments like this that we shouldn’t go too far, but the job the manager has done not only on the pitch but with the players, how he’s brought them together and that spirit, the way he’s dealt with big situations.
“Harry Maguire had a big cloud over him for many months, maybe a year. Should he play? Should he not play? The Cristiano Ronaldo situation has been dealt with perfectly. Those who doubted him dealing with it properly, are probably thinking actually he’s got that right.
“In terms of how he’s extracted the best out of the situation, how he’s dealt with the Jadon Sancho situation, he’s not being rushed back in. Antony, £90m, he’s left him on the bench against Man City. Absolutely no problem leaving a £90m player on the bench.
“All these things, playing Luke Shaw at centre-back ahead of Lisandro Martinez. They’re brave decisions – I thought Martinez would play, I thought Shaw would be left-back. But he knows what he wants to do, he’s willing to take risks, he’s his own man. He’s done a very, very, very good job. An outstanding job.”
Though United are still nine points off Premier League leaders Arsenal, they have reached the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and are potentially three games away from lifting ending their worst trophy drunk in four decades.
Jose Mourinho remains the last manager to win silverware at Old Trafford when he led the club to the Europa League title in 2017 – though Neville is confident Ten Hag can end that barren spell next month.
“There’s many more months to go, but City getting knocked out of the Carabao Cup, I know they’ve got difficult games against Nottingham Forest, they’ll have a final against one of the two other teams, but there’s a big chance to winning a trophy this season in that,” he said.
“They’ve got an opportunity to get close to these two teams at the top. I don’t think they can win the title, but the fact we’re even talking about the fact they could be level with Arsenal in a couple of weeks is unaware of.
“The club still needs to be sold, the Glazers need to do that in the next month or two. I think that would give even more confidence to the club that they’ve got the right manager, and they’ve hopefully got better owners who have got the money the club need and rather than extracting money from the club, they put money into it.”