Every word from Erik's Fulham press conference
Following Manchester United's 4-2 victory over Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup on Thursday evening, Erik ten Hag briefed the media ahead of our upcoming Premier League trip to Fulham.
With the Reds now in action just once more before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, our Dutch boss will hope to end this first chapter of the 2022/23 campaign with victory at Craven Cottage, as we face a stern Fulham side currently ninth in the table.
Ahead of our trip to the capital, Erik answered questions on Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire's recent call-up to the England squad, Antony's fitness and more.
You can read every single word from the Dutchman's media briefing down below...
“Yes, definitely. In the front line, availability from the players is a concern. We had so many games like Newcastle United: Marcus Rashford, ill. We had to play some other games, we really had to improvise to construct a proper offensive line. So, if we can't do that, then it is really difficult to get into the top four.”
Is there some underlying issue with him being able to stay fit?
“We analyse it as well, he is analysing that as well. What can we do to change that? When you are injured that often, there is a reason – we have to find out. But sometimes also it is just bad luck. He was really in a good way, and then the last 10 minutes against Atletico Madrid he got an injury and that threw him back. I'm happy he is now back and I hope he will be able to manage it and that he stays fit because he is an important part of the squad.”
Erik, what do you think about Fulham? They came close to a result against Manchester City. They appear to be a better team than they were when they were last in the Premier League. What do you think about what you're facing at the weekend?
“That is going to be a really tough game. I think in the Premier League everything is very close, and what I have seen from Fulham so far is really energetic. They also play really decent football out from the back – I remember the game against Liverpool at the start of the season. So you have to be really good there to get a result. We have to do everything in our power to get the right result – that is what we're preparing [for] now.”
“I think we've played some more good games than only tonight [against Aston Villa]. But, we need this consistency; we want to bring this consistency on a high level.”
Erik, there's some debate about Harry Maguire's form and match fitness going to the World Cup. In your opinion, do you think he's ready?
“I think that he is ready. I see him every day at training, I see his games. He came back from injury, but he is ready to perform on the highest level.”
From the start of the season to this break, how would you rate what Manchester United have done? Have you got as far as you thought you would? Not as far? Maybe a bit further? Where would you say United are?
“I hoped that we would be here, where we are now. But it would be better to ask me the question after Sunday – Sunday is going to be a really important game. But, if you look at the progress, you can make a reflection on it until today. I think we've made progress. I think one of the conclusions you can make is that the front line is a concern. I think we really made progress in the football, pressing, playing out from the back, and also attacking. But the final third, that game we have to improve, but then you have to have numbers available. Also, when we have to cover so many games, you need rotation, otherwise you don't keep the players fresh and so we need players who are available on the highest level. We need high-level players in that front line.”
Is that new players, or the players that you've already got you need to be fit? Or both?
“Both. But first, look in our squad and I think we are happy. We have talked a lot now about Garnacho. That is the question: can he stay in this development? Can he keep that line, [that] pattern of improving? Then he can contribute. He will be a real contribution to the squad, and we need that.”
“I think the players are all aware of the importance of the game against Fulham. I will not take the World Cup in regard. We play the best team – until Sunday, it is the interest of Manchester United and only the interest of Manchester United. I can't guarantee that [Cristiano will be available] now, but today he was ill. He can recover from that, it's not really a serious illness that takes days or weeks, so I think it's possible that he is available for Sunday and he will be in the squad.”
Just going back to Martial, is it safe to say he is your main starting striker when he is available? Do you see a benefit of it that he won't be going to the World Cup, in that you've got more time with him and he can train with you?
“Definitely, he plays very well in a lot of aspects of football, I'm happy with that, except his availability [after injury]. But I think we also have others. When we played with Marcus Rashford as a no.9 we also had a good part of the game. So we have more options, we have Cristiano Ronaldo. But, quite clear, in my way of playing I like the type [of player] Antony Martial is because he can hold the ball, so he is a target, he can link up, but he can also run behind, he has speed, he can finish, and he has good pressure [presses well].”
“Yeah, I see the opinion, but when I watched back the performance against [Real] Sociedad and also at Villa, he is in the positions that I expect no.10s to do and nowadays that tends [to be] really difficult to show themselves. If we have the romantic idea from the no.10 who is the playmaker, giving the final passes, if they have to play in the middle of the park that is really difficult there, because nowadays all the good teams close the middle of the park. So it is really difficult to get a lot of ball touches. That is not the player Donny van de Beek is, but what he is doing well is his positioning and his movements into space with strikers, especially with that no.9. That combination is really good, positioning and anticipation in and out of possession, and he did it to my satisfaction in the last games. But I have seen he is not on the scoring list, he is not on the assisting list, and he can do better. I think he's still not there on his limits. I have seen him better in the past. But I think positioning-wise, he is acting quite well. But he has to make that step up.”
You only have the Fulham game now until you resume at Christmas. Do you expect Donny to see the season out with you? You don't expect him to go out on loan or move in January – you expect him to finish the season with you?
“I don't think a loan [makes] sense. It's either he fights [for] himself and proves himself, in this atmosphere in this environment, or he goes. But for me, there is still a way for him, there Is still a perspective for him. It's not going to be easy because the competition there is really strong.”
You just spoke about how you're really happy to see players make their international teams. Jadon Sancho wasn't selected for England, he's ill again, what do you make of his first half-season under you so far?
“He has had some really good performances and was going in a good direction, but the last weeks he struggled with illness. Then it's normal that you don't get the nomination for it [the World Cup]. Every manager will take only fit players to the World Cup.”
“Not that well, because Brandon wasn't available, [he had] a bad injury, and really struggled but he is in the right direction. He is in a good way, he is back on the pitch and he will return to team training next week. He will go with us to the training camp in Cadiz, he will be available for the team, so happy for him. AWB, he struggled as well, but in a different side. Some injuries, some illnesses, so was also often not available, but doesn't have a real big problem so it's about him [getting] really fit and to make competition with Diogo for the second half of the season.”
Erik, how about Antony? Is there any chance of him getting fit for Sunday, or is it an injury that needs more day to recover?
“We will work on that, but I can't confirm that he will be in the squad for Sunday. But, he made progress in the last days and we will see tomorrow, Saturday, if he will be available for the team on Sunday.”
Not a threat to the World Cup?
“No, definitely not.”