Under-pressure Erik ten Hag defended his tactics and his players’ character as Manchester United look to bounce back from a pair of humiliating home defeats.
The misfiring Red Devils are under intense scrutiny after Sunday’s meek 3-0 derby defeat against Manchester City at Old Trafford was compounded against Newcastle.
United lost by the same scoreline as the Carabao Cup holders went out in the fourth round on Wednesday, with their eighth defeat in 15 matches making this the club’s worst start to a campaign since 1962-63.
Defiant Ten Hag said he was a “fighter” immediately afterwards but there have been suggestions that his players lack the same desire to dig themselves out of this current hole, starting with Saturday’s league trip to Fulham.
“That’s not right,” the United said when doubts about his players’ spirit was put to him. “You can’t say that.
“Remember only the fight we showed against Brentford, that (2-1) comeback? If there wasn’t spirit in the dressing room, if there wasn’t characters in the dressing room, you can’t do this.
“I have a good squad and I am convinced of the players in this dressing room.
“These players, we have seen last year, can do a lot better but that is up to me to let them play better.
“I have to take the responsibility to let them play better and I will put every effort in to get this done.”
Ten Hag brushed aside talk of January reinforcements as ownership speculation continues, saying United have already “constructed a good squad” before pointing to their injury issues.
Casemiro has joined the list of absentees after sustaining a hamstring injury against Newcastle that United say will keep him out for several weeks.
Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia are among others already lied low and Victor Lindelof will join them unless he can shake off an illness.
“(Raphael) Varane is ready to play, so he will travel with the squad,” Ten Hag said after the 2018 World Cup winner missed the Newcastle match through illness.
“Victor Lindelof has some illness. We have to see if he is ready for tomorrow.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 3, 2023
Absentees have unbalanced United and led Ten Hag to be more pragmatic than he would like this term.
A lot was expected of the Dutchman tactically when he arrived last year after securing success in style at Ajax, but he said after the City defeat that it was impossible to play the same way.
“I thought the explanation from my point of view was totally wrong,” Ten Hag explained. “But I can’t play like Ajax because I had different players.
“So, 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, with the competences, the characters of the players.
“That you combine and I think last year we have seen what that was. I think we played very good football last season.”
Ten Hag said “this season the philosophy is not different” as he gave a full explanation of his approach when it was put to him that onlookers have not seen clearly, if at all, in recent games.
“I don’t want to say that,” the United boss said. “I think that is too strong.
“The intention is clear but definitely it is the case that the execution isn’t there but in the moment with so many changes every game.
“We can’t line up the same line-up two or three games after each other. Every time we have to swap.
“Last season was the same with one player, but now we miss often players in the back four and every time we have to adjust.
“That doesn’t help in your routines. Now also the midfield we have to adjust, missing Casemiro, an important player.
“But I never brought up this team (issue). You know why? 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.”