Erik ten Hag urges Manchester United to become ‘nasty’ but smart

Ten Hag wants his players to be “brave” on the pitch when they return to action at Goodison Park.
Erik ten Hag urges Manchester United to become ‘nasty’ but smart

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Erik ten Hag wants Manchester United to become more “nasty” and streetwise.

The Red Devils head to Goodison Park to take on in-form Everton on Sunday evening looking to make amends for last weekend’s derby defeat at Manchester City.

Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both scored hat-tricks in the 6-3 derby demolition that United followed with a 3-2 comeback win against Omonia Nicosia in the Europa League group stage on Thursday.

Ten Hag said that must only be the “warm-up” and called for intensity to go hand-in-hand with street-smart, having been frustrated to see full-backs Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia collect early bookings at the Etihad Stadium.

Erik ten Hag was left frustrated by his side's display against Manchester City
Erik ten Hag was left frustrated by his side’s display against Manchester City (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I know nasty,” Ten Hag said. “I know what nasty is. I think also in that matter we can progress. Sometimes also play a little bit more smart.

“We have too many bookings and some in the start. I heard, yeah, in the Premier League they will play tough but I’m really wondering why we collect so many bookings and I don’t understand.

“Like the first booking on Sunday, I really don’t understand that when we want to play tough, we want to keep the game going.

“Then in the second minute already it’s a booking for (Dalot). I think it’s a duel, clear it was a foul, but then get booked? Also I saw many other bookings where I think ‘OK, is that necessary’?

Manchester United have had a topsy-turvy season to date
Manchester United have had a topsy-turvy season to date (Martin Rickett/PA)

“But also I take it to the players. I have to keep the mirror (on them) that they have to play smart, but also, hey, they have to play nasty as well.”

United remained in Cyprus after Thursday’s win, training at the AEK Arena before making the 2,100-mile journey back to the north west.

Ten Hag wants his players to be “brave” on the pitch when they return to action at Goodison Park as United look for a more consistent level of performance.

“It’s physical, it’s mental but it’s also sustainability especially,” he said.

“When you had a lack of it in the last years, it’s not something that you build or progress in a week or a month.

“No, it has to be in your system. It has to be, but it’s a demand nowadays in top football.

“I think it’s quite clear that (Manchester) City is a standard in that and there are more teams, but I think also we can deliver that.

“We have seen it against Liverpool, we have seen it against Arsenal, but now we have to do it on a consistent basis and that is what we have to work for now.

“But that will not come overnight. It will also take more than weeks, it will take months.”

Ten Hag is hoping Raphael Varane returns from the knock picked up at City in time for Sunday’s match but admits “it will be close”.

United captain Harry Maguire remains absent on Sunday along with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek.

Donny van de Beek has struggled to make an impact since joining United in 2020
Donny van de Beek has struggled to make an impact since joining United in 2020 (David Davies/PA)

The latter spent the second half of last season on loan at Everton and has endured a difficult time at Old Trafford since joining in 2020 from Ajax, where he was coached to great effect by Ten Hag.

“He had a muscle injury, so it takes a couple of weeks,” the United boss said of Van de Beek.

“He’s now back on the training grass, so he’s outside doing his work.

“But still individual, he is not returning into team training so we have to wait for that moment.”

Asked if he believed Van de Beek could still come good at United, Ten Hag said: “He has to be fit and obviously that is his disadvantage.

“He is now for two and a half years here. He had a pre-season, that was quite OK, and his chances will come, I think.

“When he came on against Brighton as a sub he did very well but you have to be available.

“When you’re not available, you cannot get the place in the first XI so now he has to make sure that he gets fit and then fight for his position.”

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