Erik ten Hag wants Manchester United to be nastier and smarter as the manager attempts to make them challengers again.
After United came from behind to beat Omonia Nicosia 3-2 in Thursday’s Europa League group match, Ten Hag said he believed they have to add an edge to their play and be more streetwise to avoid needless yellow cards. He referenced Diogo Dalot’s booking for a challenge on Jack Grealish in the opening moments of Sunday’s 6-3 loss at Manchester City.
Ten Hag said: “I know what [nasty] is – in that manner we can progress and sometimes also play a little bit smarter. Like we have too many bookings. I wonder why we collect so many and I don’t understand. Like the first booking on Sunday, I really don’t understand.
“We want to play tough, we want to keep the game going and then in the second minute it’s already a booking for Diogo. Clear, it was a foul but a booking? Also, I saw many other bookings where I think: ‘Is that necessary?’ But also take it to the players. I have to keep reminding them to play smart but they have to play nasty as well.”
Ten Hag believes a lack of intensity is why United lost so heavily to City. “It’s like a routine, a way of life and you have to bring it every training [session] as a squad and an individual player,” he said. “It’s not something that you build or can progress in a week or a month – it’s a system that has to be and a demand in top football.
“It’s quite clear City is the standard in this. There are more teams [too]. But I think we can deliver that. We have seen it against Liverpool and Arsenal [when winning] but now we have to do it on a consistent basis; that is what we have to work for now. It will not come overnight. It will also take more than weeks – it will take months.”
United stayed in Cyprus to train on Friday at the AEK Arena for Sunday’s game at Everton. Raphaël Varane faces a fitness test and Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek are unavailable.