Gary Neville interviews Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag: Harry Kane, Rasmus Hojlund and Man Utd’s styles of play

Ahead of Monday Night Football, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag sat down with Sky Sports’ Gary Neville to chat Harry Kane target, Rasmus Hojlund positivity, plus the club’s game model and styles of play.

Ten Hag is coming to the end of his second season at the club, which has seen a number of ups and downs both on and off the pitch.

Man Utd have struggled with a raft of injuries – especially at centre-back and left-back – which Ten Hag points to time and again in his chat with former Man Utd defender Neville.

Before facing Crystal Palace on Monday live on Sky Sports, Ten Hag covers this and much more when speaking with Neville…

Ten Hag: You cannot compare different players like Kane and Hojlund

This club can only have outstanding players because the expectations are so high. Manchester United is the biggest, or maybe second or third, biggest club in the world, the highest fanbase so expectations will always be there.
“But in the last decade and in this period, we couldn’t always get the players we wanted. But then you have to build and you have to accept that you get talent in instead of players who already proved it in the past.

“We have had some choices made with talents like Rasmus Hojlund. I can see a striker who already proved it, who we want to sign and we couldn’t get him. And then we went to Rasmus because he’s a talent.”

When asked if he meant Harry Kane: “Yes, and you know Harry Kane will get you 30 goals. I think Rasmus will get there, but he needs time. It’s not fair to assess him the same as Harry Kane. I would never compare two players because they are very different.

“But with Hojlund, I think we had the biggest potential in the striker position last summer and we are very happy with him. But he also needs time to adapt and we are very pleased he showed his assets in scoring goals.

“He had a very good period where he scored many games after he showed it, but before and after, he had some physical issues, which is normal for a young player coming up. But it has a negative impact on the team result and that’s what you have to accept.

“Then you go back to the fans and the opinion makers, and they don’t understand or they don’t want to understand this. It is how Man United gets judged, they only see the result, but we need time.

“You have to accept the process is going slower and you can’t then expect to straight [away] compete for titles in the Champions League and Premier League.”

Ten Hag on Man Utd’s game model

ason Wilcox has recently been appointed as technical director at Man Utd, focusing on a ‘game model’ – where every team at one club plays in the same way, such as Ten Hag’s former side, Ajax.

“There is a game model here. How do you think [Alejandro] Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo are able to come up? That’s because it was one of my objectives from the previous leadership team to bring that in.

“It was already going, they were already improving he academy. You can see they won the FA Youth Cup, the academy teams are becoming champions and that is the structure that was laid out a couple of years ago.

“Now you see some revenues from it, and the best is by bringing players [into] the first team like Kobbie and Garnacho.

“They are players who are very young and are already internationals for England and Argentina. They are at a quite good level and one of the best players in this moment in their nations and they are world-class nations.

“They bring in the levels required, but we need more from such players because football is going very quickly. Developments are going very quickly so you can’t stand still, you have to make new improvements all the time so that function of a technical director, working on a game model, is the right choice.

“There is base here and the proof is there as well.

“Initial meetings are good… now we have to take things quickly because the summer is coming. It’s a very important period where you come into a window. We want to make the next step into our squad and make plans to create an environment that avoids this year’s problems in injuries.”

Ten Hag on Man Utd’s style of play – and why is hasn’t worked this season

“Frustration [at the style of play not working] is not the right word because I’m a realistic man. Last year when I came in, you make your adjustments but at the end of the day, it’s about winning games. From last year, we found a way to make a very successful team.

“This year, we wanted to make the next step. We bought in a goalkeeper who can play out from the back, a dynamic midfielder in Mason Mount – who has been injured all season – and a goalscorer in Hojlund who is young and needed the time.

“On one hand, we were quite confident we made the right choices and we can make the next step. But all the injuries are coming and we made so many changes in some positions like the back four.

We’ve now played 47 games and we had 30 combinations in the back four. They weren’t from choices you make, they were forced choices because the players were injured… anyone with even a little bit of knowledge about football, they will know it will have a huge impact.

“Then Casemiro was injured for a long period. We had so many issues in the team that you can’t always play the way you want to play.

“But the fans want to see a successful team, a team that’s winning. What we always try to do, and it’s a compliment to the team, in every game, they went for it and they had a spirit.

“We make the adjustments a little bit in our way of play because when you don’t have a left-footed centre back or on the left side in the full-back position, you have to make adjustments you want to play, so we did.

Has Ten Hag ever thought about playing more defensive?

“We thought about this, but one of my objectives here was to bring in a proactive way of play. “The players will return so if you then adjust, go in a very defensive style and it doesn’t fit to the players we already have, then if you don’t get the results and everyone will lose the confidence.

“Then when the players are back, you have to return back to the proactive and you have lost many times. “At the same time, you see the proactive style. We improved our attacking game, we scored more goals and were more consistent… we are making improvements, but not enough.

“We know that, we know what it demands and what the standards are. We want to get back to wins so we have to make the next step. We have to get into a winning position and then bring it over the line.”

Man Utd have also had over 600 shots on their goal this season – their most ever in the Premier League…

“I see the stats and it’s clear. Last season, we had the consistent back four, we did the same and we had the most clean sheets in the Premier League.

“So when everyone is fit, they can deliver the way we want to defend, but it also has something to do with the possession. When you don’t have the players at the back and the patterns, when you don’t have the left-footed players on the left side, you already have to make your adjustments.

“It changes your way of play, but also your possession and when you have less possession, you also have more shots.

“There are some reasons for why this happens, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the way we want to play because that proves it [last season], where we had the most clean sheets in the Premier League.”

Ten Hag on defending his players in the media and the FA Cup final

“I have to defend the team against some unfairness [in recent press conferences]. We can accept this, we know the standards and in the first place, we are not happy with the season, but we know we can win a cup this season so stay positive.

“Everything is judged negative but in our attacking game, we improved over the course of the season. Some young players are improving a lot and that is then unfair to say that everything is bad.

“Also the young players need time to get to their best levels but they have the potential that they show this season and that is the positive.

Now, we need a consistent team and when we have that, we are confident we can bring in more wins.

“We have two opportunities. First of all, we have to defend our position in the league so that is one focus point. The second of course, we go twice in two years to the FA Cup final which is a great opportunity to win a cup again.

“Manchester Untied didn’t play so often twice in two years in an FA Cup final and especially not in the last 10 years. For this group of players, it’s a great opportunity that we need to take.”

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