Ralf: 'It's important we qualify for the Europa League'
Our Interim manager spoke to MUTV ahead of our season conclusion at Crystal Palace on Sunday, reflecting on this season and offering his thoughts on United's future under Erik ten Hag.
United enter the final match of the season knowing that victory would mean we finish sixth in the Premier League and confirm our spot in the Europa League next season.
Ahead of our trip to the capital, here's what the German had to say...
It’s looked like you’ve had a few players back [in training] after being out. What is the situation with the team going into the weekend?
“Unfortunately there will still be quite a few players missing, not being available. We have a few question marks and we have to wait until tomorrow’s last training session to find out if they are being available. I’m still positive that we will have a good first eleven, starting eleven capable to show a much better performance than we did against Brighton.”
What did you make of the [youth players] achievement of winning a trophy that is pretty special to this club?
“I think it was a great experience for the boys to play in front of 67,000 - the biggest attendance for a youth team game in England, I suppose. I don’t know if there has been a youth team game with a higher attendance than this one. Winning the game in front of those 67,000 was a massive experience for the boys that will help them to develop their careers.”
Your first game in charge was against Palace, and it will be your last game in charge this weekend. Overall, how would you reflect on that five months?
“We had a very good start against Palace and with regards to the result away against Norwich. Two wins to start with, [but in] the draw against Newcastle we already saw some problems that we had in that game. [We had a] home win against Burnley, so with 10 out of 12 points we had a very good start. We also showed some good performances thereafter, but I think the defeat against Atletico, from then on we had problems, we were struggling to keep our momentum. We lost our confidence and energy, we also lost some players, unfortunately. After the West Ham game we were missing out some offensive players with Mason Greenwood, with Anthony Martial, and in too many games also Edinson Cavani was not available. That’s why we just lost our momentum. We lost our shape and our form, especially in the last eight weeks I would say, we were not in the same shape and we didn’t show the same performances that we did before.”
I just wonder if it’s frustrating that cup defeats, Middlesbrough and Atletico Madrid seem to have had an impact on the overall course of the season, because it seems to have affected other performances in games?
“We should never have dropped out against Middlesbrough at home. We were the dominant team, we missed a penalty, we missed an open goal in the second half so we never should have lost that game against Middlesbrough. It was also a blow, because that was a competition in which we intended to get as far as possible and to maybe even play in the final at Wembley. Since we lost against Middlesbrough, which we should never have done in that game, that was also a big disappointment but I think the major blow was the defeat against Atletico Madrid and we never really recovered from that to be honest. Yes, we still had a few games that we won, but in general we were not as confident as we were before that.”
Do you analyse and think I might have done that differently? Is that something you look back on?
“Of course, you do that after every training session, after every game you play. Not only here, but as I said we were on a good pathway. We developed the team, we conceded less goals in the first couple of weeks and months, then all of a sudden we had problems to score our goals ourselves because we missed some offensive players. But as I said, in general we were not sustainable. We didn’t manage to develop the team in a sustainable way, and to stabilise it in all the relevant areas. That’s why we are where we are.”
We are going to end up finishing sixth or seventh, but do you think it’s important that we finish sixth and have the Europa League next season?
“Yes. I mean it’s bad enough that we aren’t going to play on a Tuesday and Wednesday night in the Champions League, but knowing that we are going to play Thursday evening, I think it’s important, even more so for the players, also for our supporters that we qualify for Europa League because in Europa League, Manchester United reach the final the season before. The last season they played in the final against Villarreal and Frankfurt won the Europa League two days ago in style, qualifying for Champions League. This is why I think it’s very important to qualify for the Europa League.”
The new manager will be probably watching [against Palace], he’s already here. Do you look at it and think the future will be bright?
“I mean if we draw the right conclusions of the experience that we made this season, not the last six months but in general the last 12 months, I think it’s positive. It can be positive. I am positive that this can happen, together with Erik, we have a modern coach who has proven himself in the last years at Ajax that he is one of the best coaches in Europe. We have all the facilities here. We have the stadium, we have a capacity of almost 80,000, every home game sold out, we have a very good training ground, we have good staff members. So it’s all there, so if we now make sure we get the quality mentality players that a club like Manchester United needs in the next windows, I am positive that we can bring back Manchester United to the top flight of this league.”