Erik ten Hag can no longer use injuries as an excuse for Manchester United’s poor form – Man United News And Transfer News

“For the first time since I was the manager, we can pick a team from the squad that is probably the strongest,” Erik ten Hag revealed during a post-match interview after Manchester United’s win in the FA Cup.

While United emerged 4-2 winners from a pulsating game against Newport County in the fourth round on Sunday, it’s a victory which will have done little to quell the building pressure against the Dutch manager; pressure he only fuelled with his post-match comments.

The game was a throwback classic; an advert for the proverbial ‘magic of the cup’. The BBC would have been ecstatic to have hosted such a game on terrestrial television. Neutrals will have enjoyed the lower league minnows giving the Premier League giants a contest.

Ten Hag would have been less enthused by this ‘magic’, however.

The Dutchman watched his team surrender a two goal lead to a club 17th in League Two. They were were able to produce seventeen shots on Altay Bayindir’s goal.

There was even a period in the second half, after Newport County scored to draw level, where it felt like United may go on to lose a game they had been winning 2-0.

Ten Hag’s expensively assembled team persevered through this difficult moment, producing just enough quality to win the game. A well-timed fourth goal, courtesy of Rasmus Hojlund with five minutes left to play, spared fans an agonising end to the game.

A trip to Nottingham Forest or Bristol City awaits United in the fifth round, after the two sides drew their fourth round tie on Friday. The FA Cup represents United’s last chance of a trophy this season.

Ten Hag cut a frustrated and tense figure in his interviews after the game. While his mood was certainly exacerbated by the off-the-field situation with Marcus Rashford, explained in greater detail here, it will have been influenced by his team’s poor performance as well. It’s a familiar feeling for the Dutchman.

United’s form this season has been nothing short of abysmal. They currently languish in 8th place in the Premier League with a negative goal difference. They have already crashed out of the Champions League and Carabao Cup in equally embarrassing fashion. Across 62 games last year, United lost 12 games. They’ve already lost 14 this season.

Ten Hag has made constant references to the pervasive injury crisis at Old Trafford this year as a reason for this downturn.

“So often we have to change the team,” he revealed last month. “You don’t get the routines. We know football is about solid performance and consistency and we know we have to make a step there, but I’m sure when we have more players available in the key positions we will get more consistency.”

It’s a reasonable excuse, given how many key first-team players have spent extended periods in the medical room. But it’s one which is no longer applicable.

The Dutchman welcomed back Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw from injury yesterday.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was rested as a precaution, while Victor Lindelof and Mason Mount are edging closer towards their respective returns as well. Even Andre Onana will return this week, following Cameroon’s departure from the Africa Cup of Nations last week.

It means there are no longer any long-term injuries at Old Trafford.

While Rashford’s availability in the short-term is unclear, Ten Hag will have his full ensemble of expensively-assembled stars to pick from over the coming weeks.

He describes it as the “first time” this is true since he arrived in Manchester over eighteen months ago. It also means there are no more excuses for errant displays.

Dan Sheldon (The Athletic) believes the effect has already borne fruit. The reporter contends it was United’s senior players who were crucial to “getting over the disappointment of conceding twice and grinding out a win” yesterday.

He implicitly indicates if it had been other members of the squad on the pitch, we may have been more likely to see a famous giant killing.

Ten Hag indicated his senior players’ returns were “very important” for the remainder of United’s season. His side will have to demonstrate a far higher level in the second half of the campaign to turn things around, with the prospect of a top four place, as well as a successful FA Cup campaign, still possible.

With the INEOS Sporting team yet to make an official decision on Ten Hag’s long-term future, however, the results his fully-fit team produce from now until the end of the season will likely have a “very important” influence on whether the Dutchman will remain at Old Trafford beyond the summer.

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