Erik ten Hag is adamant that Manchester United must reset from the “mess” of Sunday’s 7-0 humiliation at Liverpool, with the manager praising the stand-in captain Bruno Fernandes as “an inspiration”.
Ten Hag, speaking for the first time since the club’s record-equalling defeat, said he did not feel let down by his players. United were 1-0 behind at the break but capitulated in the second-half, Fernandes’s disappointing display drawing particular criticism.
“We are in the same boat, we win together, we lose together, we make a mess on Sunday and we have to deal with it,” said the manager.
“We talked about it, we’ve seen it and set the right conclusions, then we have to reset and bounce back. We know in a season setbacks will always be there. It was a huge setback, that’s clear. There were a lot of lessons in it and that can help us for the future, that’s the positive – how negative it is. We were really below average, especially mentally wise. That’s the way we treated it, all the energy, all the focus has to be on the next game.”
United host Real Betis in Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg tie and Ten Hag said he would “definitely” stand by his decision to hand Fernandes the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured club captain, Harry Maguire. The Portuguese playmaker’s second-half performance saw him not tracking Stefan Bajcetic, brush-off an assistant linesman and appearing to feign injury.
“He’s playing a brilliant season,” said Ten Hag, “he’s had a really important role in why we’re in the position where we are. He’s giving energy to the team, not only running a lot at the highest intensity but the right way and right direction.
“He’s coaching players, he’s an inspiration, but no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. We have to learn, he has to learn, he will because he’s intelligent, I’m happy to have Bruno Fernandes in the team and that he’s captain when Harry isn’t on the pitch.”
Marcus Rashford, who also started at Anfield, offered his support to Fernandes. “I love playing with Bruno – for a forward like me he’s a perfect player to play with,” the United forward said. “He’s been a good leader for us even when he’s not been captain, which is always a good sign. He’s helped other players become better leaders and the reality is we can’t be an organised with just one leader being captain.
“He’s done a lot in terms of bringing his leadership skills in, from the moment he arrived. Like the manager said, nobody is perfect, sometimes you want to win so bad you end up doing things a little out of character. As a team we have to support him because he’s a fantastic player.”
Rashford was clear that contrary to some accusations United did not give up in the second half at Anfield. “That’s nonsense,” he said. “We were unorganised, communication was bad, that’s why we conceded the goals. But I believe everyone was trying to get back into the game that much. We came away from the principles too much, the forwards were trying to press as a unit but we weren’t connected with the midfield.
“We were trying to get a grip of the game at 2-0 and 3-0, we were talking but we weren’t in agreement with what to do, it’s happened, we can learn from it and move on. I’m happy and grateful we have another game quickly because we have an opportunity to take a step forward.
Rashford insisted that United’s players were determined to “put it right”. “Losing against Liverpool is enough, the scoreline doesn’t matter, when you lose a game against any of your biggest rivals it cuts deep. It’s not nice and it’s never a nice feeling,” he said.
“It’s football, it’s why everyone loves the games so much. It’s disappointing but we can’t dwell on it and look back, we have to be thankful games are coming thick and fast. We’re in a position where we’re still fighting on all fronts, when we have a game like that we want to play as soon as possible to put it right.” – Guardian