The Erik ten Hag era at Manchester United couldn't be going much better with the team lifting the EFL Cup Sunday in a 2-0 win over Newcastle for their first trophy under the Dutchman and their first trophy as a club since 2017. Still in the FA Cup and Europa League, this may not be the final trophy that the Red Devils win this season but it's one that signals that United are back, earlier than expected, and that ten Hag's style is working.
United were under pressure from Newcastle United early but David De Gea made the saves that were required until the match opened from the team earning a free kick before Luke Shaw found Casemiro for the opening goal. The Red Devils would double their advantage only six minutes later due to Marcus Rashford forcing Sven Botman into an own goal but the Casemiro goal was the momentum shift in the game.
Casemiro, hand-picked by ten Hag, has filled a hole that United has had for years with a general at the center of the pitch and he helps fill out a cast of winners in the side along with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane. Three Champions League, two of which have World Cup medals, in the center of things makes it much easier for ten Hag to instill his ideals and he has taken control to bring the team to their highest levels in years, fueled by organization, intensity and belief.
Navigating the Cristiano Ronaldo saga excellently by seeing the disgruntled star leave midseason kicked the team into high gear after the World Cup, making sure that the midfield didn't miss a beat after Christian Eriksen went down with an injury, and improving every player around the squad. Ten Hag has done it all. There was a lot that ten Hag has needed to do to bring success back to Old Trafford and even on short rest after defeating Barcelona on Thursday, he's done it, with the team seeming to improve week to week and sitting comfortably in third in the Premier League.
With the downturn of performances at Ajax without ten Hag, the impact that he has at clubs is evident, and in this case, perhaps, earlier than expected. How quickly he has taken Manchester United from a club in crisis that lost their opening Premier League matches to Brighton and Brentford to controlling their Champions League destiny, winning a trophy, and contending for two other trophies is quite impressive.
The team will have to continue these performances but with ten Hag's subs and a summer coming to bolster the squad -- possibly under new ownership -- there's no reason to expect this rise to not continue. United are rebuilding a winning culture brick by brick, and with Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Martinez and others in the squad, there are young players who can be a part of ten Hag's core for a while to come.
This trophy could be the first of many as the club could be back on a level playing field with their noisy neighbors Manchester City before long. If ten Hag's improvements keep coming at such a rapid rate, passing City to be the top club in Manchester is still certainly within the realm of possibility.