Erik ten Hag was forced to come out and defend his Manchester United players after Patrice Evra directly accused the Dutchman of making excuses for his players following a series of below-par displays.
The Red Devils have endured an extremely turbulent 2023/24 campaign to date with the club winning 11 but losing 10 of their 22 matches to date. Those losses have seen Ten Hag come under extreme pressure and in growing danger of the Manchester United sack, and especially in the light of accusations that several of players are not showing the necessary fight.
That perceived lack of desire was there for all to see on Saturday night when they tamely suffered a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle, with the body language of several United players coming in for stinging criticism.
And with Marcus Rashford’s attitude coming in for the strongest criticism, Alan Shearer has explained why the star is “really unhappy” with his current situation at United and that it was no surprise to see him axed from the starting line-up that recorded a 2-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday evening.
United, though, were able to cast put those difficulties to one side as they picked up a deserved three points against the Blues. United were at it from the first whistle and were very good value for the win given to them by a well-taken Scott McTominay double.
However, despite closing to within three points of the top four, United and Ten Hag are not out the woods yet. And they face two more must-win matches with Bournemouth on Saturday and then Bayern Munich next Tuesday.
Ten Hag defends Man Utd after Evra confronts him
Even a win in the second of those two matches, against the Bundesliga champions, may not be enough to progress into the Champions League knockout stages.
And amid their season of struggle, tensions are clearly running high with a number of ex players and pundits all having their say on the club’s bleak run of form and amid claims Ten Hag is skating on thin ice.
The mood around Old Trafford was clearly much better in the wake of a much better display against Mauricio Pochettino’s side on Wednesday evening, with United looking hungry for both the win and to prove their doubters wrong from the off.
However, after the match, Amazon Prime pundit Evra confronted Ten Hag and suggested the United boss was too defensive of his players in the wake of a number of performances which have not been up to standard.
“I know you’re protecting your players but we really feel against Newcastle – Newcastle are also playing in the Champions League against PSG [so they are also tired],” Evra began.
“So I think saying they were a little bit tired is not an excuse and tonight and I’m sorry and I know you won’t comment about it but the players that were on the pitch all of them were like dying for the badge. They were playing as a team.
“I think the start today was a team. It wasn’t one player even McTominay wins man-of-the-match. But I just saw the starting XI, they were the players and were like determined to win and forgive what happened against Newcastle.”
In response, Ten Hag insisted he was not looking for an excuse but was keen to stress that a drop-off did not come as a surprise to him.
“I can give always reasons but they are never excuses so it doesn’t matter,” Ten Hag said. “You are talking about performance every time again from Newcastle.”
Ten Hag insists United are putting effort in amid Antony admission
Ten Hag continued: “We play in that week, three games, two very good games. But then I know we played on Saturday, Newcastle on Sunday. We played on Wednesday, they played on Tuesday. We came back from Istanbul, we have to go away.
“There are always reasons why but that’s still not an excuse to play like we did in Newcastle, definitely not. We can’t take that excuse. We have to perform every time for our fans, every time we have to give our best because good is not good enough, you have to do better.”
Speaking in his presser later on, Ten Hag also insisted his players were all pulling in the same direction and explains they are determined to block out the noise around their performances.
“Crisis? Not for us. We are on a journey, we keep calm, we look to the process, we know where we have to build, we know what we have to build on,” he said.
“As I say, we go in the right direction, we don’t get distracted by criticism around us. We are very critical of ourselves, we know we are not quickly satisfied and happy, we always want to do things better and if we do things not good we want to put things right and we want to keep going in this process.
“And we want to keep going in this progress because we know the season is long, we have to improve a lot if we want to be successful but this team is capable of being successful.”
Man Utd star sent a message
Wednesday’s game saw Antony start in place of the dropped Rashford and the Brazilian’s performance, while not yielding a goal or an assist, was certainly big on determination.
Asked if he felt Antony had benefited from a spell on the sidelines, Ten Hag conceded: “I think it’s a very good opinion, I agree.
“He is progressing as the team is progressing but this is the attitude, what he needs, what he has to contribute to the team. He was very bright, he got very good positions on the ball, he also made very good decisions and he’s stepping up. He has to build on this.”