Rasmus Hojlund's return to form presents a "luxury problem" for Manchester United ahead of this weekend's FA Cup final against Manchester City, says Erik ten Hag.

Hojlund came off the bench to score United's second goal as they rounded off their Premier League campaign with a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, having also netted in last week's 3-2 victory over Newcastle United.

He finished his debut Premier League season with 10 goals, becoming the youngest player to reach double figures in 2023-24 (21 years, 105 days old as of Sunday).

Hojlund has battled injury problems and dips in form throughout the campaign, and in his absence, Ten Hag has often opted to deploy Bruno Fernandes as a false nine.

The Portugal international started United's last two matches in that position, and Ten Hag says he has plenty to think about as he prepares to name his cup final lineup.

"It is not a dilemma, it is a luxury problem," Ten Hag said.

"I think both formations can be a success because, as you know, we can play with the set-up from the Etihad, where we were a threat with Bruno's movement in behind.

"With Rasmus Hojlund in behind and in form, it is absolutely something we have to consider. 

"Let's have a thought, but let's not say we only need 11 players. In a tough final, you need a bench as well."

Hojlund failed to score in his first 15 Premier League matches before ending his drought against Aston Villa on Boxing Day, though he did score five times in United's unsuccessful Champions League campaign before Christmas.

He has 16 goals across all competitions this term, which Ten Hag sees as a good effort when taking his fitness problems into account. 

"It could always be better, but don't forget he had three injuries this season," Ten Hag said.

"He came in with an injury and missed the start, then he got injured before winter, and then got another injury after winter. 

"Every time that has broken his rhythm. If you score 16 goals for a first season, it is okay, and remember it is also not over. We have the final too."

Bruno Fernandes says Manchester United must "finish the season in the best way" following their 3-2 win over Newcastle United.

The United youngsters played starring roles, with Kobbie Mainoo, Amad Diallo and Rasmus Hojlund getting all three goals to close the gap to Newcastle in the table.

Anthony Gordon and Lewis Hall both netted for the Magpies, with the latter setting up a nervy finish with his stoppage-time effort, but their lack of clinical edge meant United earned all three points.

Erik ten Hag’s side avoided a third consecutive defeat, and what would have been a record-breaking 10th home loss of the season, and Fernandes insists they must find a way to finish positively. 

Speaking to Sky Sports, the United captain said: "Obviously the job isn’t finished yet. We still have one game in the Premier League, then the biggest game of the season, the FA Cup final.

"It has been a tough season. The table shows that, and we are all aware of that. The fans have been amazing and behind us all season. We all appreciate what they have been doing for us.

"We want to do better and do differently. They [fans] have been amazing for us, and we had to do something. We have been trying, but results don’t show that. We have been working hard and everyone has been giving their best. It is not enough, and we have to do more.

"We still have two games to go, and we have to finish in the best way.

"It doesn’t exist, a captain's performance, it is a team performance. I am no different from anyone just because I have the armband. I always try my best, and we always do the best we can for the club – nobody hides that we play for a big club, and we have to lift our standards every game."

Despite returning to winning ways, United have now conceded 58 Premier League goals this season, their most across a single campaign in the competition.

Ten Hag was keen to turn the focus away from their struggling defence and onto the attacking players instead.

"Fantastic. Great goals. But it was a team effort how we made the goals. But I'm always happy at young players who are progressing very good and scored some brilliant goals," he told BBC Sport.

"Newcastle have a lot of physical power, and you have to match that, but you also have to play football. We had found the really good balance in this.

"It's always nice to win any game. It's important to win the last game at Old Trafford this season. The fans deserve this because they've had difficult times and always stayed with us.

"We are here together. We wanted to pay the fans back."

 

Erik ten Hag urged his players not to get complacent against a Burnley side who are still fighting for their place in the Premier League.

After a run of four games without a win in the top-flight, Manchester United came from behind with late goals from Bruno Fernandes and Rasmus Hojlund to beat bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United on Wednesday.

The Red Devils sit in sixth place on 53 points, three more than Newcastle United below them, but have not yet secured a place in Europe next season.

When asked what kind of challenge Burnley would pose, Ten Hag was full of praise for the way Vincent Kompany has set up his team.

“They play high-intensity football. They have changed their approach slightly in the season. They have had good results and are hard to beat, and all the compliments to Vincent and his staff.

“We can’t afford to think [it’s only X] about any opponent. With the team we have available, we have to be creative. We have to take every opponent with 100% focus. We can’t allow and do a little bit less.”

Burnley’s survival hopes were given a huge boost last weekend with an impressive 4-1 win against Sheffield United, leaving them just three points behind Nottingham Forest in 17th.

With just four games left of the season, Kompany highlighted the characteristics have kept the Clarets within touching distance of the teams around them.

He said: “The biggest thing is consistency, hard work and making sure to not get distracted by the outside noise has been the main factor. We haven't found the recipe for Champions League football yet, but we are improving every game.

"I know we still have a chance and that's all that matters to me, whether it's two teams, three teams or four teams still in it, it doesn't matter too much to me.”

Bruno Fernandes produced a decisive double as Manchester United twice came from behind for a 4-2 win over Sheffield United at Old Trafford, easing the pressure on under-fire boss Erik ten Hag.

Ten Hag received fierce criticism after his team surrendered a 3-0 lead in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Coventry City, who they beat on penalties after a 3-3 draw.

His team trailed twice on Wednesday, with Jayden Bogle punishing Andre Onana's error to score and Ben Brereton Diaz prodding home the Blades' second, either side of Harry Maguire equalising.

However, Fernandes equalised from the spot in the second half before teeing up Rasmus Hojliund's late finish after another great strike from the Red Devils captain sent his side 3-2 up.

The win takes Ten Hag's side above Newcastle United and into the top six with 53 points, while bottom club Sheffield United stay 10 points adrift of safety.

Just 28 seconds had been played when Diogo Dalot worked Wes Foderingham from range, but if the hosts thought that effort would precipitate an assault on the Blades' goal, they were mistaken.

Alejandro Garnacho was denied by Foderingham after a mazy run, but the Red Devils were largely uninspired as the visitors sat back.

They gifted Sheffield United the lead after 35 minutes as Onana passed straight to Bogle, who side-footed home at the near post.

That sparked Ten Hag's team into life, though, and they were level within seven minutes as Maguire glanced Garnacho's cross home.

Foderingham denied Garnacho with a fine stop on the stroke of half-time, and Sheffield United made that reprieve count within five minutes of the restart, Brereton Diaz pouncing to prod Ben Osborn's cross home.

Yet Chris Wilder's visitors again failed to hold on as Auston Trusty wrestled Maguire to the ground from a corner, allowing Fernandes to blast into the top-left corner from the spot.

Fernandes then blasted home from 25 yards out to send Ten Hag's hosts ahead for the first time, and the midfielder was not done there, teeing up Hojlund to make the points safe with a pinpoint cross from the right.

Fernandes rescues Red Devils

Ahead of Wednesday's game, Manchester United had only won one of their last seven Premier League matches (three draws, three defeats), going winless through the last four of those (three draws, one defeat) – their worst such streak since 2019.

They twice looked on course for a humiliating defeat, but Fernandes led from the front to down the Blades and boost his team's hopes of salvaging Europa League qualification.

He has now scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances, netting on each of his last four outings. This is just the second time he has enjoyed a four-match scoring streak with the Red Devils in the competition, having done so under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in February 2021.

Blades on the brink

While Sheffield United can take heart from their performance at Old Trafford, the result does nothing for their slim hopes of remaining among England's elite.

Wilder's men are 10 points from safety with just 12 to play for this season and will be relegated to the Championship if they lose to Newcastle United on Saturday.

The Blades could even see their fate confirmed this weekend with a victory, depending on Nottingham Forest's result against Manchester City on Sunday. 

They have now conceded 92 goals in 34 Premier League matches this term, the most ever conceded in a 38-game season in the competition.

Erik Ten Hag has branded the reaction to Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Coventry “embarrassing” and “a disgrace”.

Having let slip a 3-0 lead at Wembley with 20 minutes to go and then won on penalties after the Championship side had an extra-time goal disallowed for a marginal offside, United were heavily criticised by pundits and fans alike despite making it back-to-back finals.

Ten Hag met a question about whether he understood the response at a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s clash against Sheffield United with a feisty response, saying: “No, absolutely not.

“The question: ‘Is it embarrassing?’ No, the reaction from you was embarrassing. It is the comments. Top football is about results, we made it to a final and we deserved it not only by this game but also the other games.

“We lost control for 20 minutes, we also had bad luck, 3-2, 3-3. We were very lucky in the end, clear. Penalties was very good and we made it to the final, it is a huge achievement. Twice in two years is magnificent.

“For me as a manager, four cup finals in four years. The comments are a disgrace.”

Antony has come in for particular criticism after he cupped his ear with his hand in a mocking gesture towards the Coventry players when Rasmus Hojlund netted the winning penalty.

Ten Hag accepted Antony was wrong but claimed he was provoked, saying: “That’s why, this was a reaction of that, you haven’t seen the provocation, only the reaction. But he should not do it.

“I have seen Harry Maguire straight after and others, we should acknowledge the performance of Coventry to come into that…and the comeback. Also see we are 70 minutes totally dominating the game by far and creating many chances.

“At 3-0 it must have been the game is closed but the return from their side was very good.”

The collapse added further intensity to the spotlight on Ten Hag’s position, and on Friday United announced that Jason Wilcox had left Southampton with immediate effect to become their new technical director.

Ten Hag said he was looking forward to working very closely with the former winger, adding: “We have to form a partnership, it’s very important. We are a little behind in the process so we have to catch up, so we will go and speed up the process.

“I met him yesterday for the first time, we had some talks. This week we will not have so much time but from Monday on we will go forward.

“Of course I know his profile, I know his methods in youth, a lot of experience there and then one year at Southampton. I know his background so I am looking forward to our partnership.”

United’s injury crisis continued at Wembley, with Alejandro Garnacho, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes all picking up problems.

McTominay and Rashford are both doubtful for Wednesday but Ten Hag expects Garnacho and Fernandes to be able to play.

Erik ten Hag has said Manchester United signing a proven goalscorer this summer “would help” – while stressing the striking options with which they entered the current season “should have been enough”.

Having last term finished third in the Premier League and won the Carabao Cup in their first campaign under Ten Hag’s management, United have subsequently underwhelmed.

With seven games to go in the league, they lie sixth, 11 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, as well as fifth-placed Aston Villa, and have the lowest goals-for tally in the top 10 with 45.

Twenty-one-year-old striker Rasmus Hojlund has netted 13 times in all competitions since being signed last summer to join an attack also featuring Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Rashford has eight United goals to his name for 2023-24, and Martial – sidelined since groin surgery in January, with Ten Hag unsure if he will be available again before the end of the season – two.

Asked at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Bournemouth how vital it was that United sign a proven hitman this summer, Ten Hag said: “I think it would help.

“In this plan we constructed we should have had enough goals. You count on goals from Rashy – last season he scored 30. You count on goals from Martial – in my first season he played very well and also in very important games he had a high impact on our performances.

“And then bringing a goalscorer like Rasmus Hojlund in, it should have been enough goals.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe became minority owner at United in February, taking control of football operations.

A change was confirmed this week as the club on Tuesday announced John Murtough was stepping down as football director, and United are looking to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth and Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox.

Ten Hag said with regard to the summer: “We are working in the background on plans with scouting. We are working on our plan, the plan is ready, but it has to execute, and I trust the new ownership that they will work as quick as possible and bring new good structures and that they can execute.

“We have good plans, I think also with quality players. You see now about recruitment: (Andre) Onana is doing very well, Rasmus Hojlund, everyone is seeing his big talent and potential. (Lisandro) Martinez, everyone was hugely happy with him, and there are others.

“So the recruitment is good. But if they (new directors) have even better ideas, we are always open. If you have options but they come with better options we are open.

“But we have a way we want to play, so we know our profiles, so it has to match the profiles we want.”

As well as the changes to the club hierarchy, the season has seen United – currently assessing Rashford, as well as midfielder Scott McTominay ahead of the Bournemouth game – hit by considerable injury problems, while there have also been other issues involving players such as that which led to Jadon Sancho leaving for Borussia Dortmund on loan in January.

Asked about the challenges, Ten Hag said: “The thing is, you have to be realistic – as a manager, it’s like a minister, you don’t have anything in your hands but at the end of the day, and that is what you have to accept, you are responsible for everything. And I take that.

“Some things… it just happens, and then you have to make the best out of it.”

He added: “This business, this industry, is about results and many see only the results, but you have to see also what’s underneath. I see underneath and I see the potential. I see the direction. So I’m positive in the way we want to go, and we will be successful.”

Erik ten Hag says he does not care about speculation regarding his future as Manchester United manager.

A promising first season saw Carabao Cup glory followed by finishing third in the Premier League and runners-up in the FA Cup, but things have gone off track this term.

United face a fight for Champions League qualification as the campaign enters the final straight, with the stunning 4-3 FA Cup quarter-final extra-time win against rivals Liverpool breathing new life into the team.

A Wembley semi against Coventry is the reward but that result did not stop talk about Ten Hag’s future during the international break as ambitious Ineos consider their options.

England boss Gareth Southgate was linked to the United job but said such talk was “completely disrespectful”, although the Dutchman appears unmoved.

“You know when you are working at Man United there will always be noise, rumours around the club, the manager, the players, whatever,” Ten Hag said.

“There will always (an) issue – you like it, to talk about. Of course we have different interests, but we are not focusing on that.

“We are focusing on the process, we are focusing on the team to play better, to improve the way of play, so I don’t care about (it).”

Ten Hag came through intense pressure in the early stages of his time at United.

Having lost to Brighton in his first match after joining from Ajax, the Red Devils went on to suffer a chastening 4-0 away defeat to Brentford.

Ahead of returning to the Gtech Community Stadium for the first time since, Ten Hag said of the outside noise: “I was trainer at Ajax. Similar.

“You get used to it, so we don’t care. Players don’t care, I don’t care. We are together in the boat and we know we have to perform and get the right results.”

Before the recent Liverpool win, one of the only positives in a forgettable season was the development of youngsters like Alejandro Garnacho, Rasmus Hojlund and Kobbie Mainoo.

The latter was named man of the match on his full England debut against Belgium on Tuesday, just four months after making his first Premier League start.

Ten Hag had planned Mainoo’s opportunity to come far sooner, only for the midfielder to sustain ankle ligament damage in July’s pre-season friendly against Real Madrid.

“It was the plan, it was the intention,” the Dutchman said. “We thought he was capable of adjusting very quickly to high levels, so we had to delay that moment but for him and for us it’s good.

“Later in the season he proved that he can contribute highly to our team.

“We are happy we have a player like him who can really contribute and make us play the way we want to play.”

Ten Hag is hoping Mainoo is available to face Brentford having reported sick on Thursday.

“(Thursday) he skipped the training because he was ill,” he said.

“I don’t know (about Brentford) but of course we hope. (Friday) he is there, not fully recovered but we have still many hours I would say as we have a kick-off at 8pm.”

Mainoo’s performances have bolstered his chances of making England’s Euro 2024 squad but team-mate Marcus Rashford’s position looks more precarious.

“Of course he knows there is a lot of competition in his position,” Ten Hag said.

“And of course he will have a lot of credit because he contributes so many times fantastically for England and for us.

“Of course, he wants to be there but also he wants to win with us. He is in a position to win a trophy and he wants to be in the Champions League.

“Absolutely he wants to contribute and he wants to perform.”

Erik ten Hag is relishing the challenge of overcoming Liverpool in Sunday’s crunch FA Cup quarter-final as Manchester United look to save their season.

All eyes will be on Old Trafford as Jurgen Klopp makes his penultimate visit as Reds boss against a side looking to keep their final route to silverware alive.

Liverpool have already won the Carabao Cup and would love to pile further misery on injury-hit United, who are looking to avoid their campaign heading into a tailspin.

A Wembley semi-final would prove a welcome shot in the arm for Ten Hag’s side before returning to their push to climb the Premier League and sneak Champions League qualification.

Asked if he trusts his players to save the season for him over the coming weeks, Ten Hag pointed to the collective and said: “I think we have to save the season.

“But we know we have to catch up in the Premier League but now we have an opportunity to win silverware. The only opportunity is the FA Cup, so we are only three wins away but big games and we have to play our best.

“Sunday is a test for us, but we like the test, we like the challenges and we can be, to a certain range, relaxed because we believe in ourselves. But on Sunday we have to prove (that).”

Ten Hag spoke with calmness and confidence at a time of scrutiny as ambitious new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos look at the best way to take United back to the top.

The Dutchman won the Carabao Cup, reached the FA Cup final and finished third in the Premier League in his first season in charge, but pressure has mounted as things have gone awry this term.

United face an uphill battle for Champions League qualification and exited Europe before Christmas, but setbacks and adversity could improve their resolve.

“So, of course, it’s about sticking together,” Ten Hag said. “You have to face it together and make sure we are always on one page together. You know around Manchester United there will always be noise.

“Don’t get distracted from it and know together where we are going. What is the project? But also what is the process?

“Then everyone knows why we are in the position that we are and how can we improve it? Then the attitude, always give your best. Every day deliver, then finally you will achieve your aims and your goals.”

Harry Maguire, Rasmus Hojlund and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are set to bolster United’s squad on Sunday after returning to training this week, so too reportedly is summer signing Mason Mount.

Liverpool were also looking at the England international before he left Chelsea for Old Trafford, where he has enjoyed a challenging start to life and has missed the last four months with a calf issue.

“I’m convinced he will be (a key player),” Ten Hag said. “He didn’t have the chance to prove this point. But he will be a very good player for Manchester United.

“It’s really unfortunate and disappointing for him but also for us when you have such a class player in the middle and you can’t play him.

“He has had three injuries as we all know, so he didn’t have any time to come into a rhythm. But I am sure that when he is fit and he will play and get into that rhythm, then he will contribute to a successful Manchester United I’m sure.”

Manchester United midfielder Mason Mount has returned to training after four months on the sidelines.

The 25-year-old has endured a difficult first season at Old Trafford, managing just 12 appearances in all competitions since joining from Chelsea over the summer.

Mount has not played since coming off the bench in United’s 1-0 win against Luton in November, but a return from a calf complaint is finally in sight.

 

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The Premier League club confirmed on Tuesday that the England international is back in training, just days after Erik ten Hag offered a promising update on him.

“Mason Mount, I think he is in a good spell now and he will return shortly,” the Dutchman said on Friday. “I think after the international break.”

Mount’s presence will be a welcome boost to a United side looking to push for Champions League qualification.

Ten Hag expects Harry Maguire, Rasmus Hojlund and Aaron Wan-Bissaka to be back for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Liverpool, but Lisandro Martinez, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia remain sidelined.

Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund is due to miss next weekend’s derby against Manchester City after suffering a muscle injury in a significant blow for manager Erik ten Hag.

The in-form 21-year-old, who had scored seven goals in his last six appearances for United, will sit out Saturday’s Premier League match against Fulham and Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Nottingham Forest.

United said the Denmark international is expected to miss two to three weeks, a timeframe that would also rule him out of the trip to the Etihad Stadium a week on Sunday.

“It’s a small injury, two to three weeks,” Ten Hag said in Friday’s press conference. “That’s what happened, that is the risk playing high intensity, training. It’s not a big injury but he has to wait now for two, three weeks.”

Hojlund’s injury – which comes in the same week that Luke Shaw was ruled out for several months – leaves Ten Hag short of options in attack with Anthony Martial already sidelined until April following a groin operation and it is likely that Marcus Rashford will be asked to play in a central role.

Ten Hag was speaking for the first time since Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of a minority stake in the club was ratified and after the billionaire gave a wide-ranging interview in midweek in which he laid out ambitious plans to knock the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool “off their perch”.

Ten Hag said he and Ratcliffe, whose Ineos group have taken control of footballing operations following the deal, are on the same page.

“We speak a lot, we have many conversations with him and with Dave Brailsford (Ineos director of sport) about this club, about the team about the structures,” he said. “We are very aligned. Their ambitions fit with the ambitions I have, with the ambitions I had when I came in.

“We are in that project now. For me, I’m 18, 19 months in and I see (things) go in the right direction. We had setbacks in the second season but you see the team coming, you see the squad progressing and developing.”

And the Dutchman denied that he would find himself under increased pressure given the expectations that Ratcliffe will have for the club. United have won four in a row in the league but remain five points adrift of the top four.

“No more pressure because we have the same ambition, we have the same targets,” Ten Hag said. “I see the process and I see this team is developing, it’s progressing.

“I see we have now also the right age across the squad, we can make that even stronger and they will grow and we will do everything in our power. There is strong competition and there are reasons behind it.

“We still have to catch up in the moment where every game is a final for us because we have to be in the Champions League. The players want this, the team want this but we have to believe.”

Injuries, however, could be the thing that derails United’s bid to break into the top four.

Hojlund and Shaw have joined an injury list that already includes Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Lisandro Martinez, Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia.

“Of course that is an issue but other clubs have this and we have to deal with this,” Ten Hag said. “I feel we can deal with it better but still it’s an issue with the depth of the squad, and the squad have to prove it.”

Manchester United have received a blow with in-form striker Rasmus Hojlund expected to be out for between two and three weeks with a muscle injury.

That means the 21-year-old will definitely sit out Saturday’s Premier League match against Fulham, and almost certainly miss the Manchester derby on March 3.

Hojlund has been in a rich vein of scoring form, netting eight goals in his last eight appearances for United. His brace against Luton last Sunday also made him the youngest player ever to score in six consecutive Premier League games.

A United statement on Friday read: “Rasmus Hojlund has suffered a muscle injury which is expected to rule him out for two to three weeks. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Rasmus.”

The Denmark international’s absence will leave Erik ten Hag short of options in attack with Anthony Martial already missing, and is a second significant setback this week following news that Luke Shaw will miss several months with a leg problem.

Manchester United’s squad at the end of last season was the most expensively-assembled on record, according to a UEFA report.

The Red Devils’ squad at 2023’s financial year-end cost a collective 1.42 billion euros (£1.21bn) in transfer fees, eclipsing the figure of 1.33 billion euros recorded by Real Madrid in 2020.

The United squad at the end of 2022-23 included £82million Brazilian winger Antony, £80m England defender Harry Maguire, £73m signing Jadon Sancho and the £60m Brazil midfielder Casemiro.

Further recruits last summer such as Mason Mount, Andre Onana and Rasmus Hojlund are not counted within the figures.

UEFA’s European Club Finance and Investment Landscape report found three other clubs’ squads – Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid – cost more than one billion euros in transfer fees in their most recently disclosed financial year-end figures. Chelsea’s most recent figures go up to the year end June 30, 2022, and therefore do not include their heavy spending in the summer of that year or the January 2023 window.

United have become one of 15 English top-flight clubs recognised within the report as being part of a multi-club investment group, with the purchase of a 25 per cent stake by Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe almost complete. Ineos also holds majority stakes in French side Nice and Swiss club Lausanne.

In all, 105 top-division European clubs (13 per cent of the total number) have a cross-investment relationship with one or more other clubs, the report found.

There were 31 purchases of majority stakes and seven purchases of minority stakes in 2023 by groups holding a stake in at least one other European club, according to the report.

However, less than one transfer per club on average is actually executed within the same multi-club structure, the report found.

As the size of multi-club investment groups has increased, that proportion has even decreased (0.6 transfers per club in 2023 compared to 0.8 in 2021), suggesting the multi-club investment trend is not entirely driven by player transfer considerations.

Andrea Traverso, UEFA’s director of financial sustainability and research, said: “More than 300 clubs are part of multi-club investment groups, leading to an increased risk of seeing two clubs with the same owner or investor facing each other in the same competition, creating potential integrity risks at the European level.

“The current context demands strict enforcement of cost control regulations and more harmonisation of financial rules between leagues. This is paramount to limit overspending, ‘creative finance’, and rules circumvention.

“As long as differences on key regulatory matters continue between leagues, inflationary tensions will persist, contributing to imbalances and instability.”

Elsewhere, the report found spending on player wages dropped by 1.1 per cent among the clubs with the 20 largest player wage bills, with United spending 88m euros (£75m) less on player wages in 2023 compared to the year before. Barcelona and City had large increases in player wages spending – 158m euros and 68m euros (£134.8m and £58m) respectively.

Erik ten Hag has urged Manchester United’s young stars to keep striving to improve.

There has been a sense of nascent optimism at Old Trafford in recent weeks, with new investment and improved performances and results on the pitch.

In their last four games, United have claimed Premier League wins over Wolves and West Ham, a draw with Tottenham and an FA Cup victory over Newport, scoring 13 goals in the process.

 

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At the centre of all those matches has been the young trio of Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, who have contributed eight of those goals, with 21-year-old Danish striker Hojlund scoring in all the games.

A picture of the youngsters sitting on an advertising hoarding together celebrating Garnacho’s first goal in last Sunday’s 3-0 victory over West Ham summed up the shift in mood.

“Players need time, especially young players like Rasmus and Alejandro,” said United boss Ten Hag.

“They need time but also they need a team, so those two facts were not there in the first part of the season. We had to make a lot of adjustments in our way of playing, so by stages it was difficult to serve the offensive part of the team.

“When that happens, it can go really quickly that players are going to develop and to progress, like we have seen. From the start I was confident they have the potential to do what they are now doing, and now it’s about keeping moving, keeping going, be hungry.

“I think they enjoy to play together. There is adventure. They are a danger. They want to do it together and to pass to each other so that everyone can play to their qualities and everyone can score goals.

“It’s great if they want to do it together because that is the key then we can have a lot of pleasure from this.

“They are young players and the future for Manchester United is quite bright with such talent on board, but you have to develop the talent.

“There is a lot of space for improvement and that is necessary if you want to go to the top levels. This club wants to achieve a lot, to win trophies, is very ambitious, so they then have to step up and bring higher levels and consistency.

“Also, against the best opposition they have to express the same threat, and it is about end product.”

Hojlund, 18-year-old Mainoo and 19-year-old Garnacho’s next chance to impress will come on Sunday against Aston Villa.

Unai Emery has earned huge plaudits for the work he has done to elevate Villa into a team challenging for the Champions League and United will almost certainly need to overhaul them if they are to finish in the top four.

Ten Hag is an admirer of Emery, saying: “I think it is very good how he developed this team and it’s very clear how they want to play, in and out of possession.

“I think the players know exactly what they have to do, their jobs and how they have to cooperate with each other. They are really a team, they absolutely have weapons in their team, so we have to play our maximum levels to get the right result.”

Rasmus Hojlund celebrated his 21st birthday in style as the summer signing’s fine opener and a brace from fellow young gun Alejandro Garnacho fired Manchester United to a 3-0 win against West Ham.

Fresh from 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo’s stoppage-time stunner settling Thursday’s chaotic contest at Wolves, the Red Devils’ talented young talents came to the fore once more.

Summer signing Hojlund rifled United ahead with his fourth Premier League goal in as many games, with 19-year-old Garnacho then seeing an effort deflect in off Nayef Aguerd before firing home United’s third against David Moyes’ Hammers.

The goalscorers and Thursday’s matchwinner Mainoo mimicked West Ham forward Mohammed Kudus’ celebration after Garnacho’s first goal, sitting together on the advertising hoardings.

It provided a fantastic image of three young talents that offer hope for a bright future at United, whose season has been bumpy for the most part but is starting to show signs of improvement.

The only negative for Erik Ten Hag’s side was the injury that saw a grimacing Lisandro Martinez replaced with 20 minutes remaining.

Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has been ruled out until April after undergoing surgery on a groin injury.

The 28-year-old is out of contract this summer and has managed just 19 appearances and two goals in another disrupted campaign at Old Trafford.

Martial has not featured since United fans cheered his substitution in the 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth on December 9 and the club have now revealed he is facing an extended spell on the sidelines.

 

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“Manchester United striker Anthony Martial has completed successful surgery to address a groin complaint and will be out of action for about 10 weeks as he rehabilitates,” the Premier League outfit said in a statement.

“We wish Anthony a speedy recovery and look forward to his return.”

This is the latest in a long line of setbacks for a player who looks set to leave Old Trafford in the summer after the club decided against triggering the option to extend his contract by a further year.

Martial began his United career with a bang after joining from Monaco in 2015 but has failed to fully reach his potential, scoring 90 goals in 317 appearances in all competitions.

The Frenchman’s confirmed 10-week absence will perhaps lead to a change in approach to the January transfer window at Old Trafford.

United have been more focused on streamlining than making signings this month, but Martial’s absence leaves Rasmus Hojlund and Marcus Rashford as the only options through the middle.

This time last year, United bolstered their striking options by signing Wout Weghorst on loan from Burnley for the remainder of the season, having done similar in 2020 with Odion Ighalo.

The club will have to run any change to their January transfer strategy past Sir Jim Ratcliffe as the British billionaire prepares to take control of football operations as part of his minority ownership.

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