Erik ten Hag acknowledges that Manchester United still have a long way to go in their development, but he dismisses Jamie Carragher’s claim that the team have regressed this season. This Sunday’s derby against treble winners Manchester City at Old Trafford will surely attract attention.
The Red Devils are heading into the match after a narrow 1-0 win against Copenhagen in the Champions League, thanks to Andre Onana’s last-gasp penalty save. This victory marks their third consecutive win in all competitions. However, it highlights the challenges faced by Ten Hag’s underwhelming side, who must significantly improve in order to stand a chance of winning their 191st Manchester derby.
“We are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” says the United manager. “I see both positives and negatives. In terms of possession, we are not consistently performing at the level we should be displaying in our games. For example, our away match against Arsenal or the first 30 minutes against Bayern Munich. We need to consistently maintain this level.”
“On the flip side, our pressing game is quite commendable. We have the highest number of ball regains in the entire Premier League, as well as the most middle regains. Our defensive and pressing organization align with our intended style of play. However, we need to capitalize on attacking transition moments more effectively. We have talented players who can benefit from these situations, but we haven’t fully embraced these opportunities yet. This aspect needs growth and progress, which will ultimately make our games easier.”
United has faced several challenges this season, including injuries, off-field issues, tough fixtures, and underperforming players. Despite a promising first season under Ten Hag, the team’s performance has noticeably declined since their Carabao Cup final victory against Newcastle in February. Jamie Carragher, a Liverpool legend, recently suggested that United appear to be a team reaching the end of a cycle, rather than one rebuilding under a relatively new manager. He further criticized the team’s playing style, stating that it lacks excitement and shows signs of regression. These comments were brought to Ten Hag’s attention ahead of the derby.
“In terms of possession, I agree that we need to improve,” responds the Dutchman. “However, there are underlying reasons for our struggles that I won’t delve into, but I believe everyone can see them. Nevertheless, there are facts that prove we are performing better than what Carragher suggests. We are topping the Premier League in high ball regains and middle ball regains. Our pressing game is consistently strong, so his statement is not accurate.”
United is clearly not at their best currently, and their performances have been lackluster, coinciding with ongoing questions surrounding ownership. Sheikh Jassim recently withdrew from the potential takeover process due to the Glazer family’s demands. It now seems that Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos is likely to take control. When asked if the players are considering the potential impact of these changes, Ten Hag responds, “I don’t think so. The players are undoubtedly committed to the club, but most importantly, they are committed to the team. They strive for success and understand that cooperation and solidarity among their teammates are crucial. They want to play alongside the best players in the team, and as the level of cooperation improves, our performance will also improve. This mindset is in their best interest, and they are not concerned about strategic reviews or structural changes.”
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