It’s been a tough week for Manchester United, with 3-0 defeats against Manchester City and Newcastle, but Erik ten Hag has come out fighting in the press conference ahead of the game against Fulham on Saturday.
With people questioning the character of this United squad, Ten Hag referred to the recent 2-1 win against Brentford where we scored in the 93rd and 97th minute to secure a win.
That is not right. You can’t say that. Remember the fight we showed against Brentford and that comeback. If there wasn’t spirit in the dressing room or there aren’t characters in the dressing room, you can’t do this.
Following the City game, Ten Hag expressed his belief that this United team couldn’t play like his dominant Ajax team and that it wasn’t his intention to recreate what he did in Holland, but build something new. The manager further expanded on that point on Friday.
I thought it was an explanation from my point of view [that] was totally wrong. But I can’t play like Ajax because we have different players. I came here with my philosophy based on possession but also to combine it with the DNA of Manchester United and combine it with the players and the competences and with the characters of the players. You combine and I think last year we have seen what that was. We played very good football last season. This season, the philosophy is not different and I would emphasise more on going direct. But the explanation of my going direct, they [journalists] thought I wanted to go for long balls. No, I don’t. I didn’t buy Andre Onana to go for long balls. I know we want to play from the back as we did and we tried every game. We also did against City but if an opponent is going in a high press there is an option to go direct. What I meant with directness, and I explain it, is I thought it was in the USA [on tour] how we want to play. We want to press. We want to press from different blocks and then go direct because we have players like Rasmus Hojlund, Marcus Rashford, Antony and Bruno and Scott McTominay who are very good at it, with passing from Christian Eriksen. With our full-backs joining in. That was my idea and I explained it very clear.
When it was put to him that United didn’t have a set style of play, Ten Hag disagreed.
I don’t want to say that. I think that is too strong. I think the intention is clear but definitely it is the case that the execution isn’t there. But I think the moment we are in, with so many changes in every game, we can’t line up the same two or three games after each other. We have to swap. And last season was the same, but it was one player and now we miss two or three players in the back four and we have to adjust and it doesn’t help the routines. Also in the midfield we have to adjust, missing Casemiro, an important player. We have to win and I don’t want to find excuses if we are not winning. We have to be more pragmatic but still we have to win. That is the demand and I don’t walk away from that.