Manchester United have lost nine games from 18 this season in all competitions and pressure is continuously piling on manager Erik ten Hag. A narrow 1-0 victory over Luton Town at Old Trafford on Saturday did little to convince anyone that the Red Devils were back to their best.
The international break may offer the players and supporters some respite but a daunting run of fixtures awaits the side, including three consecutive away matches upon returning to action against Everton, Galatasaray and Newcastle United.
If that run isn’t bad enough, United also face Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Liverpool before December draws to a close and Ten Hag may find himself out of a job by Christmas.
While there are not many clear candidates to succeed the Dutchman, there is one man who could finally lead the club back to glory.
The man who could replace Erik ten Hag at Man Utd
A relatively unknown entity when he moved to the Premier League last year, Roberto De Zerbi has established himself as one of the best coaches in the top flight since succeeding Graham Potter in the Brighton and Hove Albion dugout.
By the end of his debut campaign with the Seagulls, the Italian coach guided the club on the south coast to sixth, earning a spot in the coveted UEFA Europa League.
It was recently reported that Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has tipped De Zerbi to be his successor when he eventually leaves the Premier League champions, with the Spaniard’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2024/25 campaign.
However, former Liverpool and Man City star Robbie Fowler believes that Manchester United should make a move for the Brighton head coach, claiming that he is the “blindingly obvious” candidate to replace Ten Hag.
Since De Zerbi’s arrival, Brighton have been able to go toe-to-toe with the biggest sides in the division. Hull City manager Liam Rosenior even called De Zerbi an “absolute genius” following a 1-1 draw with Guardiola’s treble-winners at the Amex last season.
But would De Zerbi be the perfect replacement for Ten Hag that Fowler seems to think he is?
De Zerbi vs Ten Hag
The Brighton boss came out on top in emphatic fashion when his side travelled to Old Trafford back in September. The Seagulls picked up all three points with a comfortable 3-1 victory and Ten Hag even changed shape from his regular 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 diamond, with Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Hojlund playing down the middle, in order to cut off the centre of the pitch where Brighton like to progress the ball.
The visitors struggled to play through the middle and United’s tactical approach was working. However, De Zerbi quickly adapted his team’s playing style to take advantage of the hosts’ lack of wide players. This helped Brighton to break through Manchester United’s pressure easily and even led to a 30-pass goal in the second half.
In the end, Ten Hag had too much respect for his counterpart as the Red Devils crumbled, leading Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher to brand Brighton’s football as “out of this world”.
De Zerbi, on the other hand, has consistently been dogmatic with his attacking, possession-based style, refusing to budge regardless of the opposition throughout his managerial career. Even when Brighton lost Moises Caicedo to Chelsea in the summer, the club acquired Mahmoud Dahoud and continued to play the same way as last season.
Brighton are overachieving under De Zerbi, but the Italian coach seems destined for one of Europe’s biggest clubs and saving Man United from any further decline could be his next great challenge.