Erik: The City Ground will be lively
Erik ten Hag says his players will relish the "lively" atmosphere at The City Ground when Manchester United take on Nottingham Forest in the first leg of our Carabao Cup semi-final tonight (Wednesday).
The Reds have defeated Aston Villa, Burnley and Charlton Athletic to reach the final four of the competition, and now face Steve Cooper's Forest, who have recently experienced an upturn in form since the last time we faced them - our 3-0 win at Old Trafford on 27 December 2022.
The semi-final first leg sees United go on the road in the Carabao Cup for the first time this campaign, but Ten Hag says the atmosphere that awaits his players will only serve to motivate them to gain a valuable advantage going into next week's second leg at the Theatre of Dreams.
Ahead of the 20:00 GMT kick-off, Erik conducted an exclusive club media interview, where he discussed the latest team news, his aspirations of silverware this term, and the prospect of our first visit to The City Ground since our memorable 8-1 triumph there in 1999.
You can find all of that and more from his latest Q&A below, prior to today’s crucial cup game against Forest...
“It’s the same, they are back, on track, and they are progressing. But, for [Forest], not available.”
It must be pleasing, though, to have Jadon Sancho and Axel Tuanzebe back in training…
“Yes but, for them, comes the same [message]. They are not available yet for games but they are progressing. Definitely, Axel, it was a long time that he was not available for matches or for training. Individual rehab was really hard for him. Then, you can understand, it takes time; back in training as well, and also in team training, then you have to build up. So that will take weeks.”
“Of course, it is in our head but we have to focus on the game. But it’s true the players have to be aware of it. It is a short road to the final. A short road to the cup, to silverware. That is what you are aiming for and what you are playing for – to win.”
Forest boss Steve Cooper has told his team to really attack tomorrow and says the game comes at a good time for them as they’re in good form. What are you expecting from them?
“Yeah, it is, as you say, how he is telling [it]. A decent team with a lot of confidence building up, I thin, after our game [last month]. So they will be highly motivated on their ground and they feel strong but we like to play there because we like to play in ambiences where it’s lively. It can motivate us a lot. We can be on the front foot to face them, to challenge them, and we are really looking forward.”
They will have really good support but so will you as there will be an even bigger travelling Red Army, being a cup game. How much are you looking forward to performing in front of those brilliant fans, even more than normal?
“A good thing for the cups is you also get more support. What I’ve said: it will be a good ambience in the stadium, I think it will be highly motivating for the players and for everyone who is involved in the team. Finally, on the pitch, there you have to make the difference. We will do everything to win this game tomorrow.”
There are a lot of players working hard in the team right now and some of it may be overlooked. Antony, for example, puts a lot of work into the defensive side and is this sometimes something that is not recognised?
“It can be but it’s about, first, the team. The team is always above everything. It’s definitely about the individual also. What you expect from players is they bring in their individual qualities and because that is why they’re here, especially offensive players. You want players to perform but the base is always defensive work, as you say, and it counts for everyone. But, on top of that, we expect something. We expect they have key actions, that they have assists, that they score goals and, minimum, they have the attack and we enter the final third, enter the box, to be a threat. Not even [just] a threat but about the effectiveness.”
“Yeah but it’s about a lot. It’s about, first, the players to take responsibility that they are fit. So it’s all about recovery, about sleep, about good and getting the right stuff in, and be ready for every game. Every player because when we can pick a team out of a squad that is available, we have more chance of winning games. Also during games, you can see the subs can have a big impact on games. Everyone has to be ready for every minute. You will be needed. That’s the first thing, for the rest, of course, it’s behind the scenes. A lot of work on what the medical [team] are doing, the performance [team] are doing, what the coaches are doing. The manner of planning, the manner of performing and preparing for games. That is quite definitely true.”