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Erik ten Hag could be about to do something he’s never done before at Manchester United

The 2023/2024 Premier League season has not yet begun and the manager merry-go-round is already gaining momentum.

Wolves confirmed on Monday night that manager Julen Lopetegui had left just days before the club take on Manchester United in the Premier League season opener.

The experienced head coach took over at Molineux in November with his side rooted to the foot of the table, eventually guiding them to a respectable 13th.

It was supposed to be the basis of a burgeoning relationship, with supporters looking 20 miles southeast at the improvement Unai Emery oversaw at Aston Villa. But where they have built on their success and spent big, Wolves have gone backward.

Ruben Neves, Raul Jimenez, Nathan Collins and Conor Coady have all left this summer for a combined £83million, while the only incomings have been Matt Doherty and Tom King – both on free transfers. Financial Fair Play constraints have left the club unable to spend that money and Lopetegui, frustrated at the cards he has been dealt, has now decided to fold.

It means that when Wolves face United at Old Trafford on Monday, they will do so with a new man in the dugout. Gary O’Neil is the likely candidate, having left Bournemouth this summer after leading them to an impressive 15th place.

Erik ten Hag had already made a habit of kicking off the careers of new coaches. Last season, he fought against the ‘new manager bounce’ narrative three times.

Emery’s first game in charge of Villa in November saw him welcome Ten Hag to the Midlands and then proceed to blow United away with a barnstorming 3-1 win. Come February, relegation-threatened Leeds sacked Jesse Marsch, with Michael Skubala – an under-23s coach whose only prior senior experience was with the England Futsal team – managing to get a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

“We have to be aware of that,” Ten Hag admitted of the new manager effect before the Leeds clash. “When Jesse Marsch was in the lead, it was clear how they play. Now it’s possible they change, it’s also possible they don’t change. I think we only will find out on the pitch tomorrow.

“But then we need good anticipation of that. The difference at that time [against Villa] was when Emery came in they had a week, or maybe even longer, to prepare. And now they have not so much time to prepare.

Tottenham then sacked interim boss Christian Stellini on a Monday in April, with United heading to North London that following Thursday. Ryan Mason took interim charge and Heung-Min Son’s 79th-minute effort capped off another four-goal stalemate.

The ‘new manager bounce’ effect is by no means scientifically proven, and it’s key indicators – motivation, morale, enthusiasm – cannot be measured and collated. Wins for a new head coach always seem to prove the theory, and yet defeats are rarely used as an argument against it.

But Ten Hag has faced the prospect of a ‘new manager bounce’ three times in his first year at United and he is yet to record a win. That he will probably do so again on the opening day of the season just about sums up the chaos of the Premier League, and there is no better time to relinquish old traits.

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