EPL

Ten Hag refuses to entertain question about United’s worst Premier League season

By Sports Desk April 13, 2024

Erik ten Hag refused to entertain a question about potentially overseeing Manchester United’s worst Premier League season and has not given up on Champions League qualification.

Seventh-placed United suffered another setback in an underwhelming campaign after requiring a Bruno Fernandes brace to scrape a scarcely-deserved 2-2 draw at Bournemouth.

United have never finished below their current position since the league’s inception in 1992.

“I don’t comment on that question,” replied Ten Hag as he walked out of his post-match press conference when asked about the prospect of ending below seventh place.

“That is not important at the moment.”

Ten Hag’s men were tormented by impressive Bournemouth for much of an uninspiring outing at Vitality Stadium and twice trailed in the first half following goals from Cherries pair Dominic Solanke and Justin Kluivert.

United, who have a lengthy injury list, particularly in defence, sit 10 points adrift of the top four with only six games remaining on the back of just one win from seven matches.

Asked if the Champions League places were now beyond his team, Ten Hag replied: “No. I didn’t say that.

“We give what we can but I am also realistic, so when the full squad was there, I still would have said I believe.

“But we will keep fighting with the players who are available and you can see there is high potential.

“But also young players they make mistakes. They have proved they can compete with the best teams on the highest level but now they have to do it consistently. There is always the next step for young players.”

Solanke and Kluivert each capitalised on passive United defending to fire beyond Andre Onana, while Bournemouth also missed a host of first-half chances and struck the crossbar through Milos Kerkez.

Fernandes briefly levelled between those strikes and, having hit the bar from distance, equalised for a second time with a 65th-minute penalty after Adam Smith was punished for handling Kobbie Mainoo’s harmless deflected effort.

United looked set to face a stoppage-time penalty before breathing a sigh of relief when VAR intervened to rule Willy Kambwala’s challenge on Ryan Christie was outside the 18-yard box.

Ten Hag, who revealed centre-back Harry Maguire played with an injury issue in the first half, dismissed the suggestion his players are lacking motivation.

“I have been in football a very long time and they are very motivated,” said the Dutchman.

“We are motivated but the organisation wasn’t right and we lost balls where we shouldn’t and the pressure of the opponent.

“But our players are better than this.

“The good thing is we returned twice from losing positions. The spirit is good, the resilience is good.”

Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola questioned the consistency of top-flight officiating after falling agonisingly short of securing his club’s first league double over the 20-time English champions.

The Spaniard felt Kambwala’s challenge on Christie continued into United’s 18-yard box and deemed Smith’s handball “very harsh”.

“It’s not only about the important decisions,” said the Premier League’s manager of the month for March.

“It’s about Kobbie Mainoo diving in the first half, nothing happens; Ryan Christie, with much more contact, dives in the second half, yellow card. It’s about consistency.

“We are safe, yes, but you have to value our points, the same way you value United’s points – in the same exact way.

“The last decision, for the VAR to intervene for something that should be clear and obvious, the first touch between the players can be one centimetre outside, it has to be clear, but it’s obvious he continues making the offence inside and doesn’t allow Ryan to finish the play.”

Speaking of Smith’s handball, Iraola said: “It’s very harsh. It’s coming from his own team-mate, a rebound.

“You are two metres away, you don’t have time to do anything. They are going in the right way with the handballs because at one moment they were calling everything but today they changed their way of refereeing.

“At the end, one point against United is always important. But if anyone deserved to win today, it was clearly Bournemouth.”

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