Erik: This is part two of our rehabilitation
Erik ten Hag realises that Manchester United still need to show we have recovered from the defeat at Liverpool last weekend.
The Reds produced a marvellous second-half display to beat Real Betis 4-1 in the Europa League on Thursday night but the manager is aware that it is imperative we show no hangover from the Anfield loss when we return to Premier League action against Southampton (14:00 GMT kick-off).
This is our last fixture in the division this month and three points would help relieve any renewed pressure on sealing a top-four spot.
Ten Hag knows the Saints will not make life easy, as he acknowledged the threat of set-piece king James Ward-Prowse and feels they are fighting for survival, as he also discussed Wout Weghorst, Facundo Pellistri and the bond between the Old Trafford faithful and this team...
“I don’t want too big psychology but, of course, I want to give the trust to the team. I think they make so much progress during the season, from the last 25 games, we only lost two. One against Arsenal and one against Liverpool. For the rest, we were progressing that well and then one defeat, a huge defeat, clear, but you can’t forget all the good things we did as well. And that’s why we chose this line-up, also in the perspective of the opposition, for a tactical perspective, we thought it was also the best way.”
You seemed to make a point of applauding and sending a message to the Old Trafford fans beforehand - were you pleased, if not surprised, that their backing was again evident?
“I think the reception was magnificent. From minute one, they are behind the team. We are pleased with that, we tried to give it back and we did everything we could do. And it was a much better performance than on Sunday, that was clear. When we get it back as well. I think we scored some great goals, [and had] many more great attacks as well.”
The supporters and the players also showed the delight during Bruno and Wout’s celebrations to reiterate their affection for them, particularly Wout, and everyone was so happy, so how much does that support from the fans and each other tell you?
“You see the strong bond between the players and fans. You also see a strong bond in the dressing room, how they celebrate together, and then together with the fans. So it is how it has to be. It was a really good ambience for a long time already at Old Trafford. We have to keep it also on the away games, we have to bring more.”
“Of course, what I expect him to do is get in the right positions and he is often there, also to make often space, create space for others. Of course, a striker needs finishes. You need to net. That is your main job and he knows that and you have to take responsibility for it. So it’s important he gets a second goal, now he has to move forward.”
You have the knack for choosing the right substitutions as the right time and Facundo Pellistri made an immediate impact when he came on: what would be your message to him for the remainder of the season?
“He is the example by deserving his position by performance on the training [ground] and I said the other day, I did not select him for Liverpool and it was not even totally justified because he was training that well. Now this was his moment to come on because of a longer period he performed in training. What impressed me was he came on and, straight [away], showed himself. When they came on, Scott [McTominay] and Pelli, it was 3-1 but 4-1 is huge, to make the extra goal. In the first moment, they did, which was brilliant.”
“I think always there will be many knocks. We have to deal with that. Recover, recover quickly, but Sunday is another big occasion.”
We saw Anthony Martial back on the football pitch in training in midweek so how is he progressing?
“Yes, he’s progressing but we have to be patient. We will see how quick he can go but we have to plan it. We are really strict. We have to be really careful. We want him back as quick as possible but it’s also clear we want to do it in the right way.”
Southampton have a new man in charge - remarkably Ruben Selles is still in his 30s - a very young manager. Having won at Chelsea in his first game, will they be typical of the sort of challenge you face against sides battling against relegation?
“There are no easy games. We have seen. We have to bring the performance, we have to play to our levels, so it’s all about us. When we play a good opponent, and there are no easy games, when you don’t bring the level, you get punished. Either you lose or you lose strong. We have to avoid that. We have to be ready so we have to recover now and go for part two of our rehabilitation.”
James Ward-Prowse’s free-kicks are exceptional and he is approaching our own David Beckham’s record. Is that something we can guard against, conceding free-kicks in dangerous areas?
“Yeah, he is always an issue when you play against Southampton and you play Ward-Prowse. Don’t give the easy free-kicks because he has the capabilities to net. So don’t bring them in that position because he can. We also have a good goalie to deal with such situations but you don’t want to take that risk.”
Obviously, this is our last Premier League fixture until April, the penultimate month of the season. Does that say everything in terms of how important it is to get three points on board in this game, given the lack of Premier League action until next month?