EPL

Erik ten Hag not worried about job as Manchester United look to turn around form

By Sports Desk December 15, 2023

Under-fire Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag does not fear for his job as his absentee-hit, confidence-sapped side prepare to travel to bitter rivals Liverpool.

The afterglow of a promising first season in the dugout has long since disappeared, with the Dutchman’s position under intense scrutiny after a wretched start to his second campaign.

United’s Carabao Cup defence ended last month and Tuesday’s lifeless 1-0 home loss to Bayern Munich in their Champions League group finale saw them eliminated from Europe with a whimper.

Now comes the unenviable task of travelling to Premier League leaders Liverpool, who start the weekend 10 points ahead of their misfiring sixth-placed rivals.

United’s 12 defeats in 24 matches in all competitions has heaped the pressure on Ten Hag, but he is not worried about the axe ahead of the trip to Anfield.

“No, there’s no concern because I’m here to win and I have to make the team play better,” the Dutchman said.

“If you play good, even then I say good is not good enough, and now we are inconsistent, so I have to work on that the team is going to play for longer periods in a high level.”

The fact United are in a state of flux, as the wait for confirmation of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s partial takeover rumbles on, has perhaps given Ten Hag more time than others would have got.

Asked what gives him the confidence he retains the backing of everyone at the club, the United boss said: “I feel that (backing), yeah, and they tell it to me.

“That’s fine and that’s OK, but I’m focusing on the process. I’m focusing on making this team play better. I am focusing on make the individuals better and that’s my concern.

“That is all I’m doing – focusing on the right thing and that is the team.”

United’s team need a lot of attention judging by this season’s meek performances, with last weekend’s humiliating 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth the nadir.

In truth, the Red Devils have not been the same since losing 7-0 at Anfield in March, just a week after ending their six-year wait for a trophy by lifting the Carabao Cup.

It was a record defeat in this fixture and some United fans fear the season could reach a new low on Sunday.

“I think everyone knows, I think everyone is highly motivated when you go to Anfield,” Ten Hag said.

“It’s a great place to go and you know it’s going to be tough, and I think what every top footballer wants is to have that challenge, so you have to look forward.

“Last year of course we take that in our memory, but you have to also take the benefit from it, learn from it and on Sunday we can prove that.”

Skipper Bruno Fernandes faced particular criticism after March’s Anfield annihilation and will miss the return after picking up a needless fifth booking of the season for dissent.

The United captain’s absence compounds an eye-watering list of absentees, including injured Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Tyrell Malacia and Amad Diallo.

Mason Mount, Christian Eriksen and Victor Lindelof have also been laid low recently, while Jadon Sancho remains banished from the first team.

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw went off through injury against Bayern and the former has joined the lengthy list of absentees, which Anthony Martial remains on through illness.

But Ten Hag provided a positive update on Shaw after his hamstring complaint and says Marcus Rashford is back from the illness that ruled him out of Tuesday’s loss.

“Harry will not be available for the coming games but we don’t think it is a long-term issue,” the United boss, who would not reveal his captain for Anfield, said.

“Luke Shaw trained this morning, so we think he’s available for Sunday. Marcus Rashford is available, Martial not.”

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    Erik Ten Hag insisted he was not embarrassed but admitted Manchester United “got away with it” after edging past Championship Coventry on penalties in their FA Cup semi-final.

    The Premier League outfit were given an almighty scare at Wembley on Sunday as the second-tier side fought back from 3-0 down and then had a late extra-time winner disallowed for a marginal offside.

    A thrilling contest ended 3-3 after 120 minutes and it was United who ultimately prevailed, 4-2 on spot-kicks, to set up a repeat of last year’s final against rivals Manchester City.

    It was another highly unconvincing performance by United – which may have increased the pressure on under-fire manager Ten Hag – but the Dutchman tried to highlight the positives.

    Ten Hag said: “I can’t say that word (embarrassment) because, at the end of the day, it’s about the achievement.

    “I see the mistakes we make – we can’t look away from it – but it’s not an embarrassment. It’s a huge achievement.

    “Even the big team from United, a decade ago, only achieved the final three times. We now have two times in two years. So that’s a good performance.

    “I see we can play in very high levels but in the same match we can also go very low. That’s not explainable. It has to do with managing the game.

    “I have to teach my players, clearly. We have to do better in such occasions.

    “On several occasions we’ve let the result slip away but today we got away with it.”

    United had looked to be cruising past an apparently inferior opponent as they opened up a handsome lead with goals from Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes.

    Yet the Sky Blues, who are eighth in the Championship, pulled one back through Ellis Simms on 71 minutes and then threw caution to the wind.

    Callum O’Hare pulled another back with a deflected strike and Haji Wright sent the game into extra time with a stoppage-time penalty after handball by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

    Both sides hit the bar in extra time before Victor Torp thought he had snatched a dramatic winner in the closing minutes, only for VAR to rule Wright fractionally offside in the build-up.

    Despite the heartbreaking manner of the loss, Sky Blues manager Mark Robins insisted there was no feeling of injustice.

    The former United striker said: “If it’s the right call, it’s the right call. I think he was a toenail offside, which is disappointing. Had he cut his toenail, we wouldn’t be talking about penalties.

    “This FA Cup run will be spoken about, certainly in Coventry City circles, for a long, long time.

    “Whilst I’m disappointed for everybody, we can’t be too down about it. We’ve gone toe to toe with Manchester United, come back from 3-0 down and almost won it with a fourth, then lost it in a shoot-out, which can happen.

    “We performed like Manchester United for that last half-hour and that’s what I’m most proud of.

    “This club has been in the doldrums for so long but we’re certainly out of that period. We’ve just got to keep moving it forward, which is why we won’t feel sorry for ourselves.”

  • Jurgen Klopp hails ‘complete’ second-half performance as Liverpool beat Fulham Jurgen Klopp hails ‘complete’ second-half performance as Liverpool beat Fulham

    Jurgen Klopp lauded Liverpool’s “complete” second-half performance after they secured a 3-1 victory at Fulham to move level on points with top-of-the-table Arsenal.

    Liverpool regained their winning touch in the Premier League after last week’s 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace as they enjoyed three points with goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ryan Gravenberch and Diogo Jota.

    Timothy Castagne had equalised for the Cottagers with his first goal for the club in the first half but it was not enough as Klopp’s men showed their class after the break.

    “The second half was a complete performance, if you want,” Klopp said.

    “It was our best performance so far that we’ve had against Fulham. I thought the next step was to win today, the boys did that and it was really good. We created much more chances, we could’ve scored more often.

    “I’m really happy with the performance and hopefully nobody got hurt and we will see because we have to recover quickly as we’re playing on Wednesday.

    “We’re in the situation we are at the moment because of the character of these boys. Nobody expected us to be here and we are and that’s because of the boys.”

    Alexander-Arnold’s 32nd-minute free-kick was the pick of the goals after his stunning strike gave the Reds the lead.

    Klopp believes “nobody plays like” the full-back after he returned from a knee injury at Anfield last week.

    https://twitter.com/premierleague/status/1782083567528333595

    When asked how important it is to have Alexander-Arnold back in the side, Klopp added: “It’s super important.

    “Nobody is like Trent so that’s how it is. The way we play with him can be different so it’s super helpful and I’m really happy about that.

    “It’s good for once to have all the big guns around.

    “It’s a great free-kick and he has that from time to time. We needed it, it was a great goal, the other goals were good. For long periods of time Trent was exceptional, superb.”

    Fulham boss Marco Silva admitted the defending in the lead-up to Liverpool’s second and third goals needed to be better as his side rued a leaky performance at the back.

    Silva said: “I think the third goal killed the game, we were very loose on the right. It was one moment we should be stronger in the challenge because we were soft and it was a moment to stop the situation before Jota scored.

    “It was hard to concede the second and third in the second half. After that it was hard for us to react.”

  • Stefano Pioli determined to stop Inter Milan clinching Scudetto against his team Stefano Pioli determined to stop Inter Milan clinching Scudetto against his team

    AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli wants victory “for several reasons” as they prepare for their derby clash with Inter Milan on Monday.

    Milan were knocked out of the Europa League at the hands of fellow Serie A side Roma in midweek and will be looking to bounce back with a victory against their city rivals.

    The Rossoneri sit second in the table behind Monday’s opponents and a win for Inter means they could also clinch the title, something Pioli insists his side will use for extra motivation.

    He said on acmilan.com: “Pride, redemption, belonging, responsibility, all good terms to describe the game that awaits us.

    “Because of the league table, the Europa League exit, and for the fact that they want to win the Scudetto in this game, we have a big opportunity. A victory would be important for several reasons.

    “I have a lot of faith in my players, they know how important the game is. The more you play and gain trust if you understand how to stay in the game, it will be fundamental not to give away chances at the start like we have done in recent derbies.”

    Milan will also be looking for revenge after they were thrashed 5-1 in the reverse fixture during Inter’s impressive start to the season and they have been beaten the last five times the sides have played each other.

    Pioli knows his side have to be at their very best to get a result on Monday.

    “We had high expectations in the fixture earlier this season, then we weren’t able to overcome some obstacles during the game. As far as the tactical choices go, we are open to every option.

    “We will need to play an exceptional game, we come off the back of five consecutive defeats against them and they have always given us problems.

    “They deserve to win the Scudetto but we need to do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t happen tomorrow. We have worked hard in the last few days, we are totally focused on best preparing for the game”.

    A win for Milan could all but secure their Champions League status for next season and, with nothing else to play for this season, Pioli has set his side the objective of finishing the season strongly.

    He added: “I ask my AC Milan to win and do well from now until the very end. After seven wins on the bounce, we didn’t play as we could have done, we need to give it our all and do so until the end of the season.

    “Journalists and fans have the right to criticise, tomorrow there will be 70,000 fans spurring on AC Milan, nothing else matters. The squad shouldn’t play for me, but for the fans and to honour the shirt.

    “I want to give everything as I have done since my first day, I have been given a lot and I still feel like I have a lot to give to this team. Work is the only verb I know, we will try to win every game from now until the end and then we will see.”

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