The Red Devils have lost nine Premier League matches already this season and sit in seventh place in the table, though arguably their performances – and the absence of a defined way of playing – has been more concerning than their results.
That was evident again at the weekend when they drew 2-2 at home to Tottenham; although they netted twice, both goals were on the break and Spurs dominated possession and chances, having 16 shots, 64 per cent of the ball and attempting over 200 more passes.
Carragher feels the reactionary approach taken by Ten Hag, regularly tweaking tactics to negate opponents’ strengths, is more akin to management from two decades ago and has suggested McClaren – and his history with United under Sir Alex Ferguson – may be partly to blame.
Speaking on the latest episode of Sky Bet’s Stick To Football podcast, the Liverpool legend said: ‘Do you think Steve McClaren is an influence?
‘The reason I say that is because, when you talk about the style of play, it’s because it’s probably the style of play that we all played where there was no set thing of doing the same every week.
‘We’d do different things every week, sometimes you might go away in Europe and you play counter-attack, or you play a small team at home and you know you’re going to have lots of the ball. United feel a little bit like it’s football from our day, 20 years ago.
‘The first couple of games [under Ten Hag] they played Brighton and Brentford and De Gea was trying to play out and he was struggling with the ball, Eriksen was coming really deep to receive it, he wanted [to sign] Frenkie de Jong who’s like a real footballing midfielder.
‘And then he went away from that and had great success last season, great spell, won a cup, got to another cup final, did really well in Europe, got to the quarters.
‘And I just don’t know if there was something with Steve McClaren being at Manchester United before, being there under Sir Alex Ferguson as well, almost saying, “This is the way United play” a little bit. I don’t know.
‘Sort of counter-attacking, it’s fast and it’s wingers, and they sort of said, “Well why would we change it because it went quite well last season, let’s maybe try and buy a better calibre of player to continue what we’re doing.”’
Carragher did offer a defence of United’s approach under Ten Hag, continuing: ‘His style of play is what we’re seeing, which a lot of the time is counter-attacking, quite direct – so that’s his style of play.
‘It’s just that we associate now with the top teams almost all of them all playing the same. You’re talking about playing through the thirds, full-backs coming inside, there’s a lot of similarities, although not all exactly the same.
‘So you look at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, probably Tottenham now as well, there’s a lot of the same things that you see building up from the back.
‘Man United just play differently. It’s not that they haven’t got a style, it’s just completely alien to what the top teams do and what we expect the top teams to play.
‘Because I think we’re just sort of conditioned from Pep Guardiola going back 10 years with Barcelona and we think about Ten Hag at Ajax, now I didn’t watch Ajax every week, but we just associate Ajax almost with Barcelona and a certain style of play – whether it was like that every week I don’t know.
‘But it is a style of play, I just think it’s very difficult to win like that now.’
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