Erik ten Hag says things are on the up at Manchester United

Erik ten Hag says things are on the up at Manchester United

Under-fire Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag believes the club are in a better position than they were 12 months ago despite this season’s poor results.

The Dutchman led the Red Devils to Champions League qualification through a third-placed finish during a promising first campaign that saw them win the Carabao Cup and reach the FA Cup final.

But things have gone off the boil in an injury-impacted second season under Ten Hag.

Eighth-placed United head to Brighton on the final day of the season in danger of recording their worst Premier League finish and points tally.

European football could also be beyond them, although next weekend’s FA Cup final against Manchester City offers a chance to seal silverware and a Europa League spot.

Asked if despite this season’s struggles it could be argued that the club are in a stronger position than 12 months ago, considering Ineos’ influence and the progress of talented youngsters, Ten Hag said: “Yes, I think that we develop some young players with high potential who can really add to the quality levels of our squad.

“I would say with established, experienced players, they can make a very good mix and what can be a very strong squad that can compete at the highest levels.

“I think that is also what we showed this season against top teams, often we are very competitive.”

Pushed on whether the club as a whole is in a better place than this time last year, Ten Hag said: “When you look at the results, you would say no, but we know the reasons behind (that).

That is also what we showed this season against top teams, often we are very competitive

Erik ten Hag

“I would say yes. As you would say, we have more players, we have more high quality players in the squad and so, yeah, from that perspective we are in a better position.”

The comments may raise some eyebrows but the foundations for a brighter future do appear to be in place, with big changes afoot under Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s team.

Some argue it would be better to miss out on European football than play in the Conference League as the rebuild continues and Ten Hag was asked if it would be embarrassing to play in the continent’s third-tier competition.

“I never think in a negative scenario,” he said. “We have the opportunity, we have it in our own hands, so go for it.”

Whatever the outcome, missing out on Champions League football is a blow for the Old Trafford outfit – but not one that he thinks would derail some transfer plans.

“I think for every player Manchester United is a very attractive club,” Ten Hag said.

“Of course you want to play at the highest levels, but if you want to go into a project in a club like Manchester United, I’m sure Manchester United is a very attractive club for every player.”

Departures are as big a talking point as arrivals, with homegrown star Marcus Rashford among those whose future continues to be the subject of speculation.

The England forward has struggled for form this term and been widely criticised, leading him to post on social media last month that “enough is enough”.

Rashford returned from injury in Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Newcastle, when footage emerged of an exchange during the warm-up with an apparently abusive fan.

“There were 68,000 fans so positive, a great vibe,” Ten Hag said. “So, it’s fantastic to play for this club and Marcus knows that.”

Asked if he had spoken to Rashford about Wednesday’s incident or the social media abuse he has been getting, he said: “No, not in that specific.

“But I talk often with the players about this, and it happens, and you have to deal with it as a player.

“So, one person is not representative for many, so only one. You have to deal with it – don’t react, don’t respond. Take it and move on with it.”