March 28, 2023

Erik ten Hag said he has sought to bring back Manchester United‘s “fighting spirit” after questioning the standards at the club before his arrival as manager in the summer.

Ten Hag inherited a team which had finished sixth in the Premier League, 35 points behind champions Manchester City.

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Ten Hag said the standards within the squad were “way off” when he took over from caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick and believes he’s instilled some fight into the club, particularly through new signings Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Antony.

“I knew from the start it’s an exciting process but also a difficult process because I think Manchester United was far away from the standards of what we need to be top,” Ten Hag said. “If you’re talking about the spirit, there is one thing that I notice here, when you see the history of Manchester United, Manchester United won in the history a lot of titles, a lot of trophies and it was always by team, team spirit and fighting spirit.

“It’s the spirit, the team spirit, the team fighting, that was the base and that is in the culture of Manchester United. That is one of the things I wanted to bring back and we are in the right direction.”

Ten Hag has enjoyed some positive results in his first five months in charge, particularly victories over Liverpool and Arsenal. But there have also been set-backs against City and Aston Villa, and the 52-year-old said he was especially disappointed at the 3-1 defeat at Villa Park on Sunday because the performance was “not Manchester United.”

“Sometimes you have a setback like Sunday and we are definitely not happy with the performance and I feel responsible,” he added. “When I see my team on Sunday, that is not Manchester United. I know they are not robots but we have to demand they bring it every game on the pitch as often as possible, it has to be really often, it has to be that way.”

United kick off their Carabao Cup campaign against Aston Villa on Thursday looking to end a five-year trophy drought.

Ten Hag said he is at Old Trafford to deliver silverware but the priority in his first season is to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.

“We are playing in a lot of cups, I want to win trophies, of course but we want to qualify as one of the first four, that has to be the aim, to get there,” Ten Hag said. “That is going to be hard this season because I think also what I hear around me is that this is the strongest Premier League in years.

“At the top, you have seven or eight teams who all invested a lot, it is not one or two clubs who invested a lot, it’s not only us who invested a lot but also clubs like Newcastle United, invested really a lot, West Ham United, also massive investments, so there are many more clubs that invested but we want to be one of the first four.”

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