Ten Hag: We have built the right team spirit
Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag feels the "right team spirit" has been constructed at the club, with dividends paid in the consecutive wins over Liverpool, Southampton and Leicester City.
After enduring a somewhat difficult start to the Premier League season, the Reds have responded valiantly to pick up nine points, including back-to-back away victories for the first time in over a year.
With Mikel Arteta's high-flying Arsenal next on our fixture list, Erik spoke exclusively to club media regarding today's opponents at Old Trafford and assessed the club's summer ttransfer business following the recent additions of both Antony and Martin Dubvraka.
You can read the Q&A in full below…
"[Smiles] For the next few weeks, then it will be October and it will start again!"
You’ve brought in six new players (Malacia, Martinez, Eriksen, Casemiro, Antony, Dubravka) – how do you assess the squad you have now?
"I think we are happy with the squad. I think all the positions are filled and with that fact we are quite happy. I think we also have the right characters and now we have constructed the right team spirit and the right team building, and the base for that is always the way of play."
You’ve said that the ultimate aim is to be playing well and winning – in the early stages of the process, while you build towards that, is it most important to be winning and then improve performances after that?
"It’s always about winning in top [level] football. But we have the intention to play well and you see we are improving and we have to keep doing that game by game. Some games there will be a downgrade but that’s normal in the process, but as long as the pattern goes high that is what we aim for and work for."
"What you see is everyone is supporting the way of play. There is a good spirit. They work for each other and there is a willingness to work back and support each other. And you can see it’s difficult to create chances against us so we are hard to beat and that’s what I like. And also the football on the ball and in possession will keep improving in situations and from game to game."
Each of the last three games have been won by a single goal, without too many late scares. Are we seeing very good game management at key stages?
"We have experienced players – you can see that – and they know how to deal with that. [Against Leicester] there was room for improvement in terms of closing the game [out] quicker. There were opportunities and some spaces and we had some good counters as well, but then we didn’t finish. But that will come I’m sure. Our players have those capabilities and they can do it so well in cooperation together, and quickly that will come so we can finish games quicker."
You’ve introduced very experienced players from the bench such as Cristiano, Casemiro and Fred in order to close out victories, and they’ve all come on and made important contributions – how pleasing is that?
"Of course we are very pleased. But I think the players want to play from the start and what we need is more than 11 players on the pitch. We need a squad and that’s what we showed [on Thursday night] and that’s what we need in every game. It will not always be the same players but I am really pleased with the contributions from them."
As a manager, are you enjoying the different challenges posed by different teams in the league?
"It’s great and a real pleasure to face this. Every game is a challenge and that’s what I want, but it’s not about me. It’s about improving the team and working on progressing."
Do you tune in and watch every Premier League game that’s available on TV and how much do you enjoy watching the other games?
"Yes I watch them and my focus is especially on the upcoming opponents so this week I watched a lot of Arsenal. There are a lot of different types of play in this league and that’s nice to see. It’s all high intensity but the systems and styles are different and they vary which is nice to see, but it’s also about finding a way to win against them."
Sunday’s game provides another different test because you’ve gone from facing bottom of the league to facing the top, so the complete opposite in terms of opposition confidence – how much are you looking forward to facing Arsenal?
"What we see in this moment is that they are on top because they deserve it. They’re playing good football and we are really looking forward to facing them to find a way to win."
Similarly, do you get the sense that the players are excited and extremely determined to maintain the current momentum?
"Not only maintain, but get better. I think that has to be our idea – good is not good enough, we have to do better every day. Bring the maximum on the pitch every day, individually and as a team."
In terms of personnel, after the Leicester game, what team news do you have for Sunday?
"It looks good. I don’t think we have more injuries, we have some small [injury] complaints and we’ll see how they recover. The next game is coming quick but that’s what we have to do – recover from this game [against Leicester] and look forward quickly to the next game."
Finally, another great atmosphere like we saw against Liverpool is exactly what we want from the fans on Sunday isn’t it?
"From [Thursday] we quickly have to find the energy, that is a job for the players and their responsibility to do that well and to be ready for Sunday afternoon and when kick-off comes you have to be ready because I’m sure Arsenal will demand a big effort from us. If you want to succeed we need the same approach as against Liverpool. When we bring the energy on the pitch then it will go over to the stands and it will come back [to the players]."