04 April 2023

Erik ten Hag tells Manchester United players they must ‘act as robots’

04 April 2023

Erik ten Hag says there is no place at Manchester United for players lacking hunger as he looks to transform his squad into winning machines.

There has been a noticeable improvement since the Dutchman arrived from Ajax last summer, although there have been some embarrassing jolts along the way.

The 6-3 defeat at Manchester City in October and last month’s record-breaking 7-0 humiliation at Liverpool were chastening moments, as was Sunday’s meek 2-0 loss at top-four rivals Newcastle.

Ten Hag bemoaned his players’ lack of hunger at St James’ Park, just as he did after the 4-0 defeat at Wednesday’s opponents Brentford in his second match in charge.

Asked if he is concerned certain players will never get the message about hunger and passion, given the issue is still rearing its head eight months on, he said: “When they can’t get this (message), then they are in the wrong place.

“I agree we dropped (at Newcastle), so we returned to old habits but also know there are fluctuations because persons are not robots.

“But we have to act as robots, we have to act as machines.

“We can expect and we have to expect and demand from our players that they match the standards, so when we are not doing (that) we are disappointed because that is our job.”

We have to act as robots, we have to act as machines

When asked if this group can become robots, performing week in, week out, he said: “Yeah, because we have shown (in) so many games we did it.

“Very strong belief, very strong confidence, very strong passion, the togetherness we had. We have shown it in many games and in big games.

“We have shown we can win the games, but you have to do it every time because that is the demand on the top player.

“That is the expectation Manchester United and the fans have from our team and from our players so they have to do it.”

Ten Hag dismissed Rio Ferdinand’s suggestion that United’s players have “downed tools” since winning the Carabao Cup but said the players know losses like Sunday are “not the standard for a Manchester United team”.

However, the Dutchman is not getting caught up “in the emotion after one defeat” and retains belief in his players as they fight for more silverware and Champions League qualification.

“I trust my players and they deserve it because they gave the performances,” Ten Hag said. “We are in the right position, but we had a bad really start to the season.

“When you go to Newcastle and deliver this, that is far below the standards, far below the performance we can expect.”

Among the individuals picked out for criticism on Sunday was frontman Wout Weghorst.

The on-loan Burnley striker has only scored twice in 19 matches since joining in January and ex-United captain Gary Neville said he “isn’t good enough”.

“I also saw another comment from Gary Neville when he reflected on the performance of Wout and that with Wout we are quite successful,” Ten Hag said.

“I think that’s the evidence, so that is what I can say about that. I am happy with him because he’s doing a good job for this team.”

Weghorst may not have to play as much now after Martial made his return from a two-month lay-off at Newcastle – a moment the forward will hope can kickstart an injury-hit campaign.

“First place, he’s frustrated for himself,” Ten Hag added. “He’s the player who’s most in the gym. He doesn’t want to be there, he wants to be on the pitch.

“But of course for our team in the first place it’s frustrating and second for a manager as well because when your best players are available you have more chance of winning games.

“I only have to refer to Liverpool home, to Man City home when he was available and then he makes a difference.

“But it’s the same for Casemiro, for (Christian) Eriksen, who are very important players but when they are not available we still have to win.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox