Erik ten Hag expects his Manchester United players to push for more
Erik ten Hag does not fear a drop-off from his players following Manchester United’s Carabao Cup win as he senses renewed hunger rather than satisfaction in the dressing room.
The Dutchman has turned things around impressively since taking charge of the faltering Old Trafford giants nine months ago, leading the club to a first trophy in six years at Wembley on Sunday.
The 2-0 victory against Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final felt like a huge moment for a group eager for more as they continue to fight in the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup.
Ten Hag told the group to “get back to work” as they prepare to welcome West Ham in the latter competition on Wednesday and does not think performance levels will drop following Sunday’s trophy success.
“I think in the first place the players have to take responsibility for that,” the United manager said. “They have to take responsibility for their performance.
“But I can’t see that (drop in performance coming). It’s a trophy but it’s not the end of the season.
“So, what I heard around me, when I see the comments in the media (from players), when I see the fight in the dressing room yesterday, this is not like we are satisfied with this.
“We want to do better and I think that is quite clear, so it’s inspiring and it’s not the end. Definitely not.”
Ten Hag brushed aside any talk of a quadruple, saying his only focus is Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against West Ham at Old Trafford.
The former Ajax boss does, though, know a thing or two about fighting on multiple fronts and believes the buzz of playing every few days can keep a side going.
Asked if players find extra energy from winning games and trophies on a run like this, Ten Hag said: “Very good question. It’s true.
“In my experience in Ajax is when we dropped out of Europe, the levels went down. When you are in, it gives energy.”
United have already played 40 matches in what is a season unlike any other due to the winter scheduling of the World Cup in Qatar.
There is the potential for 25 more games – just one shy of the club record of 66 set in 2008-09 – but Ten Hag is confident he has the strength in depth to survive the schedule.
“Yes (the squad can cope),” he said. “I think so because until now we have managed it quite good and I think we can do it also until the end of the season. I am happy.
“So, except Anthony Martial, the availability from all the players is there.
“First mentally, they are really ambitious. That is one thing and that gives the energy.
“Second, I think we have the type of players who can handle the load, the physical load.”
The aforementioned Martial was a key part of pre-season and the United manager’s plans for the season, but an injury-hit campaign has restricted him to just 14 appearances in all competitions.
The France forward is currently laid low by a hip complaint and Ten Hag was unwilling to say whether the forward will be able to play before March’s international break.
“I hope but I don’t give an expectation about that,” he said of his return date. “Let him do his work. Several times now and then he drops back too quickly, so give him the time.
“Of course I hope he’s on board but also at this moment we’re doing really well with this set-up.
“When he will be available, then we have an extra option and we have a good option. Then we’ll be happy because we have quality option extra for hopefully the rest of the season.”
Martial’s issues compounded the dramatic exit of star name Cristiano Ronaldo, with Wout Weghorst arriving on loan from Burnley in January as United brought in a surprise replacement.
Marcel Sabitzer then joined on loan on deadline day following the ankle injury sustained by Christian Eriksen, but talk of extended stays is of no interest to Ten Hag at this point.
“I think it’s much too quick, much too soon to talk about that,” he added.
“First, we are in this season. That is where the only focus has to be. No distractions from what is coming next season.”