Erik: Players on course to return

Saturday 27 April 2024 02:00

Erik ten Hag is expecting to welcome some of his injured Manchester United players back before the season is out, as he anticipates a test against a Burnley side fighting hard against relegation from the Premier League.

In his exclusive matchday Q&A with MUTV's Mark Sullivan, the boss also discusses the form of Harry Maguire, Casemiro's ability to play out from the back and a target being realised by handing a debut to the club's 250th Academy graduate to represent the first team in Ethan Wheatley.

The manager also explains why he thinks the goals have been flowing since the turn of the year for his team and how Alejandro Garnacho can act as an inspiration to all of the youngsters dreaming of representing the Reds' senior side at Carrington.

Extended Q&A: Bring on Burnley Video

Extended Q&A: Bring on Burnley

Pre-Burnley Q&A | Erik gives updates on Evans and Lindelof and reflects on a historic week for our Academy...

Erik, a much-needed win on Wednesday, a good victory. How important is it to build on that this weekend?

"Yeah, it's quite clear but, for us, it's how we are every day. You have to perform and I think we are in a quite consistent way, in 2024, in this calendar year. Yeah, we would have liked more wins but we don't lose as well. But this team, this club, has to win every game and so, yeah, when you are winning on Wednesday, you have then to do the next win, three days after. And that is our challenge. It's a big test because Burnley is a team that are fighting against relegation, they want to avoid the relegation. I would say it's very tight for them, so we have to be on the front foot. We have to be very aggressive and we have to match them because it's a big test for us against them."

On Wednesday, you were able to give a debut to Ethan Wheatley, who became Academy graduate number 250. It's a proud history, which you've played your part in. Is developing youngsters one of the most exciting parts of the game for you?

"I know there's many more but it's definitely that we want to be a club with young players, they bring in a culture and a playing culture because you can follow them from a young age, and so they play a huge part in a selection like ours. It's in the DNA of Manchester United. The Academy has always played a big role. I think about the Busby Babes, I think about the Class of '92 and now, typically, it is the 250th graduate to make a debut, which is great. We work long for this. It was one of the areas, one of the targets when I entered Manchester United. Togetherness with Darren Fletcher and togetherness with Nick Cox, and with Travis [Binnion], we have to work on a pathway that is possible. We worked on a way of play and we worked on similar training methods and playing style to give those players a pathway to come through. But, at the end of the day, the player has to deserve it and we are very happy that players like Garnacho and Mainoo, they made it. That, I think, is a very good example and it will absolutely be an inspiration for all the Academy players that they now see. It is possible to be part of the first team of Manchester United and to be part of it, for longer term for this club, and that can help us because it will motivate everyone and it gives a good base to be successful again. Next to other areas, like recruitment."

It's a huge inspiration to our Under-18s and actually, in particular, the four Under-18s involved in your first-team squad at the moment, you insisted they played in the Under-18 Premier League Cup final. Why was it important that they did that, despite being in your squad 24 hours later?

"Yeah, I know, it was maybe a decision first against the first team but to develop players, to play matches. It's the most important tool you have and so, every time when it's possible, I want to give them the game time in their matches to develop and to progress."

Back to your squad for the Burnley game, what is the latest with the team news? How is the squad shaping up?

"It's the same squad, apart from, and that is very enjoyable, Mason Mount is returning into the squad. So I'm very happy with that, of course."

No updates on the longer-term absentees? Is there any chance we see them before the end of the season?

"I think so and, some players, they return now on the pitch. Licha Martinez, Luke Shaw. Also, I don't think Victor Lindelof is too far away, as is Rapha Varane. So, yeah, there are players returning. Jonny Evans, I don't want to forget him so, yeah, there are players returning and I think that's what we need when we go into the last tough weeks of the season."

Part two: Press conference v Burnley Video

Part two: Press conference v Burnley

Press conference part two | Ten Hag on Marcus Rashford, Rapha Varane’s fitness, Amad and more…

You've had so many injuries, it's been crazy, but Harry Maguire continues to be available. He's had a really good spell of form, scored in successive matches, and the character he's displayed. How important is he right now, Harry?

"I think he made a huge improvement in the two seasons I'm here. He's, in this moment, really proactive, really confident. Yeah, stepping in, driving the team forward, making the switches, his work going forward and defending proper and [being] tough. And scoring as well. So, yeah, he's doing everything in his moment, what you can expect from a centre-half."

He's alongside Casemiro at the moment. Can sometimes having a ball-playing midfielder like Casemiro in the defence help your build-up play?

"You know especially when it's Casemiro! He's magnificent when he is on the ball, always finding the right positions. Always finding the right decisions when he is on the ball, and everyone can see he's a great player and he really contributes to our building-up play."

Just finally, we've scored 21 goals in our last eight games after some criticism before that, that we weren't getting enough goals. The last time we didn't score was at West Ham before Christmas. So what have  been the main factors?

"Don't mention this! [laughs]"

We'll remove it from the record! But it's been a good time for your team, scoring goals, what has been the main change in this development?

"We worked a lot on our attacking game, about decision-making, about movements, and now you see we get connections and it's very difficult for our opposition. Also, we use our creation and the intuition of players. We call it the x-factor and, when we do that, and don't make things over-complicated, and we are not selfish and we put our egos in front, and we really are connected. We create a lot of chances. And then we have players who re capable, I would say they are all capable to score a goal."