Erik's pre-match press conference: Part one

Friday 03 March 2023 12:30

Erik ten Hag declared his Manchester United players are ready for the test of playing Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, as he briefed the media ahead of the weekend's blockbuster clash.

Erik spoke to journalists early on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his team came from behind to defeat West Ham in the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford.

Ten Hag was quizzed on his previous experience at Anfield, having taken his Ajax side there in December 2020 for a Champions League group-stage match, and the current status of his squad.

The Dutchman also discussed a host of other topics, as anticipation for Sunday's match continues to build.

Below, you can read every single word from Erik's press conference, ahead of what is sure to be another cracker between English football's two most successful clubs...

Part one: Erik's Liverpool press conference Video

Part one: Erik's Liverpool press conference

Press conference part one | Ten Hag recalls his Anfield visit with Ajax and gives a fitness update on two players...

Next up is Anfield. Have you ever been to Anfield and if not, what have you been told about it?
"I've been to Anfield, yes. I'm looking forward [to it], I know the ambience, the atmosphere will be great. It will be hostile against us, and we like it."

How big a test of your team's mentality will this be?
"It is, of course, a test. But we're facing Liverpool and we're really looking forward [to it], I know these players, my squad, my team will be prepared to go and fight, to go with confidence but we know it's going to be difficult. We know we have to suffer, we have to sacrifice to get a good result."

You're 10 points clear of Liverpool at the moment. How surprised are you at the way they've struggled at times this season?
"I'm not talking about Liverpool, it's not my responsibility. I have enough do at Carrington, I have enough to do with Manchester United, so I have to deal with the performance of Manchester United and that's all I'm aware of and where I'm putting all my effort in."
You've had some really big wins recently: Manchester City, the final against Newcastle, Barcelona... but how big was that win over Liverpool right back at the start of the season when questions were being asked, in terms of giving the group the belief to go on this run?
"It's in the process. It's a couple of months back so we are now in a different process, a different period. I don't look back, I look forward. I look forward to Sunday and I really want to enjoy this."

When you first took over, you were asked about Manchester City and Liverpool's dominance and you said "eras can end." With the way you're now playing, and how Arsenal have done this season, do you think that era of just those two at the top is now over?
"There's always a pattern, it never goes consistently [upward] in a way, it's fluid. I'm sure Liverpool has really good management, a really good way of playing, good philosophy, good strategy, I don't think so [the era is over]. But, once again, we are not talking about other clubs, we are talking about us and I think we are in a good direction and with our philosophy, strategy and culture, we have to keep getting progress. It's all about that."

Are the players recognisable to you? Bear in mind the comparison to the players you started with and how they've grown over the last few months... 
"We don't have to compare. It's about the future, it's about now. We're facing a fantastic opponent and we're looking forward, so it's all about us to get the right preparation and to be ready for that game."

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There's a lot of talk about the tactics you employ and the differences you've brought to Manchester United. How do you make players hungry again?
"It is difficult to say in a few words or a few sentences. It's more about the total package. It's more like philosophy, culture, strategy, and to bring that consistently forward day by day." 

You've got a fantastic record this season at Old Trafford: 19 games undefeated. But when you play against a big rival away from home, is it time to underline the progress the squad have made by getting a statement win? It's been seven years since Manchester United won at Liverpool, so do you feel the time is now for you to go there with the belief you can?
"Yes, but I think we had also away from home some good performances. For me, there's no difference. The pitch, everywhere, is the same size, there are three [officials] refereeing and a fourth [official]. The ball is round, there's air in the ball. So we have to play and make it our game. Of course we know the ambience will not be supporting us, and you have to deal with that. But as I said, our players like that. They like playing in such atmospheres." 

What message would it send out to go to Anfield and win? Because you've lost at City, you lost at Arsenal...
"So that is the next step we have to make then."

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Harry Maguire said after the game how you were quite hard on the team at half-time [against West Ham]. Was that just you emphasising that there can't be any complacency? You won the cup final and celebrated, so did you feel like a little bit of complacency had sneaked in?
"What I say was we are not playing [to] our standards, that is what I saw in the first half. So then I will be tough to my team, to my players, because I demand a performance. Every day I demand a performance and I don't accept when it's lower. I will criticise them and I will tell them what I expect, and I have to give the team solutions for how to win the game, and I think the performance in the second half was much better."

Do you expect to have the same squad available to you on Sunday or will you have anyone back?
"I think we will have players back. Yesterday [against West Ham] Luke Shaw was not available, so we expect him back. [Jadon] Sancho was ill, but we will have to wait and see how that develops but I think he could be [available] as well."
Does fighting for four different trophies become more challenging as the season gets to its conclusion?
"We like to play. We have energy from playing every third to fourth day, so we want to keep that going but think about it game by game, so Sunday [is the] next game."

There was a moment at full-time when Steve McClaren pointed to his head and said 'winning mentality'. Jurgen Klopp has always made a massive thing about mentality, he has called his team 'mentality monsters.' Do you think your team is getting to a point where you've got your own mentality monsters now?
"I think our mentality in general is very good. I think we have many leaders who set the mentality, who set the standards, control the standards, who correct if necessary. I think we are happy with this process, but we can always be better and that has to to be the approach."