Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag does not think a six-match unbeaten run means their season has turned a corner but he believes they are “back in the race” for the top four.

Having won just twice in nine matches and lost five in December, United have now won five and drawn one of their last six.

Last weekend’s victory at Aston Villa was important as it kept them within six points of fourth-placed Tottenham and with games to come against Luton, Fulham, Everton, Sheffield United and Brentford – not withstanding the Manchester derby in that sequence – maintaining that sort of form will push them closer to Champions League qualification.

“First of all I think it is too quick to say we turned a corner. We are not there yet. We are still not in a position,” said Ten Hag.

“We are back in the race but we are not in the position we want to be because this club definitely wants to be a minimum of top four so we have to catch up. But I think we are now in a good direction.”

The priority has to be securing Champions League football again as Ten Hag admits United are not at the level of Manchester City, Liverpool or Arsenal.

However, he knows taking the next step and re-establishing them as title challengers will take longer due to the investment they have made in young players with potential.

“In the summer I think we were in a very good moment: we were third, winning one final and in another final,” he added.

“Then you choose young players for the future and that has to do with FFP (Financial Fair Play – now Profit and Sustainability), then also you know it will take longer before you can go into the competition for the top position in the Premier League.”

The Dutchman was asked whether, during the toughest parts of the season, he had any doubts he would be able to get back on track a team which finished third last season and reached two cup finals, winning one.

He said: “I was convinced. Once the (injured) players are available then I knew the players have the quality to play for the top four and now we have to prove it. Across the whole season I was convinced of that.”

Contributing to their improvement has been the form of youngsters Alejandro Garnacho, 19, and 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo.

Ten Hag admits if they continue their current progress they could end up saving the club millions in the transfer window.

“Manchester United will always be a buying club but I think the club’s history, in its DNA, is to give opportunities to players from the academy,” he added.

“There are players with potential and we have given them the time to develop and progress and we are mentoring them too because we saw their potential was higher.

“We also take into account that they couldn’t bring the levels in that moment but you see when you give them the opportunity they progress so quickly and they bring the team to higher levels in the long term.

“You assess the potential of the player and we were convinced of those players and I think we still have in the back of our squad young players who can make the step, like Kobbie and Garnacho have made in the last couple of months.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will not underestimate Luton but insists going to Kenilworth Road is the same as any other ground.

The Hatters have beaten Newcastle and Brighton at home, drawn with Liverpool and pushed Manchester City and Arsenal close before losing by the odd goal.

They surprisingly lost to fellow strugglers Sheffield United when they visited last weekend but Ten Hag will not read much into that result.

“It doesn’t matter who you face, if you play the best or the worst or in between, it doesn’t matter,” said the Dutchman, whose side have won five and drawn one of their last six matches.

“We respect every opponent and definitely we are not in a position to underestimate any opponent, so we will not do.

“We have to play our best because we have seen their performances across the season are very good, and especially the last weeks, they are really improving. I have a lot of respect for this team, and we have to play our best football.”

United are unbeaten in the last 12 meetings against Luton in all competitions, winning 10 and drawing two.

Their record against newly-promoted clubs – winning the last 11 games and conceding just five – is the best since the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign when he won 12 in succession between 2011 and 2013.

And while Kenilworth Road has its own individual idiosyncrasies which most Premier League clubs will not be accustomed to, Ten Hag dismissed what effect that may have on his side.

“The pitch, is it smaller or longer? (Is it) 11 v 11? No referees are coming?” he added.

“Every ambience is different, we have to deal with the circumstances, it’s about playing football 11 v 11, we have to make it our game.

“Every ambience is different, of course, that is what I want to say and we have to deal with the circumstances. We have to make it our game.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will not have any input into the appointment of a new sporting director but admits whoever arrives will have to be “on the same page”.

The PA news agency understands the club hope to bring in Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth to fill the vacant role.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s deal to acquire a 25 per cent stake in the Old Trafford giants and take control of football operations is expected to be completed next week and the Ineos chairman’s determination to hit the ground running has seen his team move to strengthen United’s football leadership group, with recruitment a particular area of focus.

It is understood poor player trading is a significant area targeted for improvement, with sales pinpointed as a concern on top of United’s missteps making signings.

The appointment of a sporting director is absolutely key to that and while Ten Hag wants their philosophies to be aligned he will have no sway over who is brought in.

“I think it is very important you are on one page about football philosophy, about football tactics, about the profiles of the players you need in the team so it is very important to have very good communication so you get the right players,” said the manager.

“It is one of the most important factors to develop a good team, that you have the right players but also the right characters.

“That means you have to do the right work and be aligned and it’s a long process to get the right players in.

“I have worked in several situations where sometimes I was alone in charge, sometimes I had co-operation.

“I think it is so specific, especially on the top, and also so intense. With the number of games you need people around who are on the same page, working on the same targets to achieve the high ambitions.

“I am here and I know in what construction I am working and I am very happy in that construction. I don’t know anything about changes.

“I talk with the new sporting organisation but it is not up to me. My focus point at this moment is on this team.”

Ten Hag admits the investment and input from Ineos has provided a boost throughout the club, even at first-team level.

“You see, you feel, that ambition and it brings a mood and brings a spirit which belongs to this club,” the Dutchman added.

“I think the players, the staff are very aligned with the ambitions of Ineos because that’s why are here, that’s why we’re playing for Man Utd.

“We want to win and achieve the highest. We have to make strategies and we have to execute strategies to prove the ambitions.

“Manchester United also have to look for better, never be satisfied, good is not good enough, always looking for better and always try to every day do better than the day before.”

On the pitch Ten Hag has issues at full-back, with Luke Shaw doubtful for Sunday’s trip to Luton and Aaron Wan-Bissaka out for a longer spell.

“Luke is doubtful for the weekend but we are positive he can make it. He came off (against Aston Villa) as a precaution,” he said.

“Wan-Bissaka will take some weeks because he picked up another injury in training last week. Mason (Mount) and Tyrell (Malacia) will take some more weeks.”

Erik ten Hag has urged Manchester United’s young stars to keep striving to improve.

There has been a sense of nascent optimism at Old Trafford in recent weeks, with new investment and improved performances and results on the pitch.

In their last four games, United have claimed Premier League wins over Wolves and West Ham, a draw with Tottenham and an FA Cup victory over Newport, scoring 13 goals in the process.

 

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At the centre of all those matches has been the young trio of Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, who have contributed eight of those goals, with 21-year-old Danish striker Hojlund scoring in all the games.

A picture of the youngsters sitting on an advertising hoarding together celebrating Garnacho’s first goal in last Sunday’s 3-0 victory over West Ham summed up the shift in mood.

“Players need time, especially young players like Rasmus and Alejandro,” said United boss Ten Hag.

“They need time but also they need a team, so those two facts were not there in the first part of the season. We had to make a lot of adjustments in our way of playing, so by stages it was difficult to serve the offensive part of the team.

“When that happens, it can go really quickly that players are going to develop and to progress, like we have seen. From the start I was confident they have the potential to do what they are now doing, and now it’s about keeping moving, keeping going, be hungry.

“I think they enjoy to play together. There is adventure. They are a danger. They want to do it together and to pass to each other so that everyone can play to their qualities and everyone can score goals.

“It’s great if they want to do it together because that is the key then we can have a lot of pleasure from this.

“They are young players and the future for Manchester United is quite bright with such talent on board, but you have to develop the talent.

“There is a lot of space for improvement and that is necessary if you want to go to the top levels. This club wants to achieve a lot, to win trophies, is very ambitious, so they then have to step up and bring higher levels and consistency.

“Also, against the best opposition they have to express the same threat, and it is about end product.”

Hojlund, 18-year-old Mainoo and 19-year-old Garnacho’s next chance to impress will come on Sunday against Aston Villa.

Unai Emery has earned huge plaudits for the work he has done to elevate Villa into a team challenging for the Champions League and United will almost certainly need to overhaul them if they are to finish in the top four.

Ten Hag is an admirer of Emery, saying: “I think it is very good how he developed this team and it’s very clear how they want to play, in and out of possession.

“I think the players know exactly what they have to do, their jobs and how they have to cooperate with each other. They are really a team, they absolutely have weapons in their team, so we have to play our maximum levels to get the right result.”

Erik Ten Hag is confident Manchester United’s encouraging run will not be derailed by Lisandro Martinez’s knee injury.

The Argentinian defender was forced off in the second half of last weekend’s victory over West Ham and faces two months on the sidelines after suffering ligament damage in his right knee.

It was only Martinez’s fourth game back following a lengthy spell out because of a recurrence of a foot issue, with United winning three of those matches and drawing one.

“It is a setback, of course. Licha was returning, you see his contribution to the team when he is playing, apart from the technical skills also the mentality,” said Ten Hag.

“It is a big setback for Licha, he is very disappointed about it but he is a fighter. He will be back stronger and we think he’ll be back by the end of the season so there are games to play.

“As a squad, we have to replace him and we have very good players in that position who can play there and will play there. As a squad we have to deal with it.”

Raphael Varane replaced Martinez while Victor Lindelof and Jonny Evans are also options for Ten Hag for Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa.

“We have options, how to deal with that position,” said the Dutchman. “We have good centre-halves in our squad. The others are all available, Luke (Shaw) can play also there.

“I’m quite confident we can keep this process going, that others can fulfil that position and also contribute, play in high levels. Those players are experienced and are very good players so it’s up to them now.”

United have been plagued by injury problems this season and Ten Hag revealed Aaron Wan-Bissaka suffered a setback in training on Thursday, while Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia also remain sidelined.

Martinez attempted to play on after initially going down, but Ten Hag does not believe that had an effect on the eventual diagnosis.

“I don’t think so, but it was his decision,” said the United boss. “He was comfortable to be back on the pitch but after he tried and then I think stopped in the next attack.

“In some situations it is clear and obvious but there is always a grey area and it’s very difficult to see when you are on the sideline. We have the screens and we see it as well, and our medics are over there and they are communicating with the player, but to assess in one or two minutes is impossible.

“You need 24 hours minimum and sometimes even longer, so how can you do this in two minutes?”

Ten Hag, meanwhile, welcomed the news that Sir Jim Ratcliffe is reportedly keen to invest heavily in Old Trafford.

“If that is his view then I would say it expresses the ambition of this club, which is good. But it is not my task in this club to deal with stadium questions, with facilities, my job is to manage the team and to build the squad,” said Ten Hag.

Another three points on Sunday would be a major boost to United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and the associated financial injection that would provide.

They go into the clash eight points behind Villa but at a slightly shaky moment for Unai Emery’s team, who have won only one of their last five matches.

“I’ve said to the team from the start of January, every game is now a final,” said Ten Hag.

“That was also our approach to West Ham. We were one point behind them but this is a final, we have to take this challenge, we have to see this as a final. That will be every game from now on so we are already in that mood.”

Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes has pledged to keep the memory of the Busby Babes alive.

Sunday’s visit of West Ham is the closest fixture to the 66th anniversary of the Munich air disaster on February 6, which claimed 23 lives, including eight players.

It is also the first time without Sir Bobby Charlton, who was injured in the crash, following his death last year.

Fernandes said: “We know the demands of playing for Manchester United. It’s a legacy which is in the club.

“It’s a responsibility for everyone: managers, players, everyone involved in the staff to play in a certain way. But also to pay the most respect possible to those who have been at the club in the past.

“We want to pay our respects to those involved. They built the story of the club and, after that, even more. When bad things happen in your life you get tighter to those close to you.

“It’s going to be 66 years since the disaster and everyone is aware what was built after that and the whole situation around the club before and after.

“We’ve been educated since we arrived at the club to be aware of what happened. I’ve been to the museum with family and friends so we can know more about the history of the club.

“When you go you see everything, I have family and friends who are passionate about the club and when they come here they like to come to the museum. Most people in Portugal are aware of how it was at that time with the Busby Babes.

“Everyone is aware when they come to the club – because every year we pay our respects to those lost in the disaster – what happened. It’s a big part of the story of Manchester United.”

Erik ten Hag and women’s boss Marc Skinner will lead tributes at their fixtures, laying commemorative wreaths. Players will also wear black armbands, while families of the victims will be at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Ten Hag said: “Munich was a disaster for the club and how the club recovered from it, how individuals recovered from it. It was great from such a disaster to survive it and a couple of years later you’re lifting the biggest trophy in European football, that is immense.

“We should always remember this, this is the legacy why Manchester United exist and what we should match as a club, as a team, as an individual.”

Erik ten Hag heaped praised on Kobbie Mainoo after the teenage star’s stunning stoppage-time winner sealed Manchester United a needlessly stressful 4-3 win at Wolves.

The misfiring Red Devils produced their best first half performance of the season at Molineux, where Marcus Rashford struck inside five minutes of his first match since last week’s reported Belfast escapades.

The returning star then played a part in Rasmus Hojlund’s bundled second, before United bounced back as substitute Scott McTominay scored shortly after Pablo Sarabia had converted a softly-awarded penalty.

But United wobbled and looked set to blow a much-needed win as Max Kilman scored before Pedro Neto equalised in stoppage time, only for Mainoo’s moment of magic.

The 18-year-old showed skill and courage to take on the Wolves backline, before bending home to win it at the death and spark wild United celebrations.

“To be honest, I had mixed feelings,” boss Ten Hag said after the breathless clash. “One side very pleased, of course it’s a massive win this.

“I think for a neutral fan, spectator of this game, it was great to see but as a manager when you see you dominate a game for an hour, you should go 3 or 4-0 by the hour, because we had the chances and we conceded nothing.

“But then the way we concede the goals we should manage that better on the pitch, this can’t happen.

“But then you see the spirit of the team and the resilience and especially in Kobbie Mainoo, that is great to see.

“We have the right character, the spirit in the dressing room is very good when you can show this.”

Mainoo was part of the United team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2022 and caught the attention of Ten Hag shortly after he arrived that summer.

The midfielder has made 13 appearances so far this term and would have played more had it not been for an unfortunate injury sustained against Real Madrid in a Houston pre-season friendly.

“I think very quickly I saw him,” Ten Hag said. “I think last autumn I saw him for the first time and at that moment I thought he was playing a little bit too comfortable in the Under-21s, he should be much more dominant.

“We pushed him a lot by that side, by pushing him in training and you see he makes such good progress and he is almost progressing from game to game.

“And of course, it’s wonderful to see and I hope he stays calm like he is, as he did with his goal as well.

“He is determined, he is a good character and I hope he keeps going with this progress.”

Ten Hag also praised Rashford as the United forward produced an impressive response to days of negative headlines and an internal disciplinary.

“I think the whole team played very good, Rashy as well,” the Dutchman said.

“Maybe you know that, you see the last games, there is coming about in the front line and if they get the service in the back they are a threat for every opposition.”

As for opposition manager Gary O’Neil, the last-gasp defeat was compounded by Wolves’ inability to bring in a striker on deadline day.

They made an approach for Chelsea’s Armando Broja but could not make the loan signing within the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules, with the striker instead heading to Fulham.

“We couldn’t afford to do it financially, where it ended up,” O’Neil said.

“But we haven’t been deducted 10 points, we’re still together, we’re still putting in performances that show we’re all together. We’ll try and keep it moving that way.”

Erik ten Hag says top players should not have to be reminded what is acceptable as the Manchester United boss looks to move on from Marcus Rashford’s reported Belfast escapades.

Having scored 30 goals for the Red Devils in 2022-23, things have gone awry this term and the forward’s paltry four-goal haul has been compounded by some off-field matters.

Ten Hag called Rashford’s decision to go to a party after October’s derby defeat to Manchester City “unacceptable” and stories emerged in recent days of more late-night exploits.

The 26-year-old is reported to have gone out in Belfast last Thursday night until 3am and was unable to train the following day through illness, going on to miss Sunday’s FA Cup win at Newport.

United later said in a statement that “Marcus has taken responsibility for his actions” and the “internal disciplinary matter” is closed – something Ten Hag referred to ahead of Thursday’s trip to Wolves.

“So, he has taken responsibility and for the rest it’s an internal matter,” the Red Devils boss said. “Case closed.”

Ten Hag used the phrase “case closed” repeatedly, including when asked outright about Rashford’s reaction and whether the player had apologised for his actions.

But the Dutchman was more forthcoming on the obligations for elite players and the onus being on them to maintain high standards.

“First of all, the players at this level have to manage themselves,” Ten Hag said. “That is what you can demand from the player.

“A player has to know what is good and what is no good. When you want to play top football, it demands a certain way of life. Always.”

Pushed on whether he needs to reinforce that message, he interjected: “No. No, come on. We are talking about top football players.

“I don’t have to educate them anymore. When you are playing for Man United, they should know.”

Ten Hag underlined the need for accountability but says he takes potential matters going on behind the scenes into consideration when dealing with player behaviour.

“Of course, that is part of the job to support your players,” he said. “But also we have people in this club who are helping the players on that.

“But, as I said before, at the end of the day when you are a player at Man United you have to manage yourself and you have to take responsibility for your performance and your performance in a team.

“At Man United it’s winning football games. It’s all about that. It’s not so complicated.”

Rashford is not the first player to face internal disciplinary proceedings, with Jadon Sancho banished from September and Cristiano Ronaldo released by mutual agreement during Ten Hag’s first season.

Ten Hag brushed aside questions about whether the Rashford situation was a distraction or a test of his authority, but did speak about the difference to his handling of Sancho.

The 23-year-old claimed on social media in September he had been made a “scapegoat” after Ten Hag said he left him out of a matchday squad due to his training levels, leading to the exiled player leaving in the transfer window.

Asked to explain the difference in his approach with the pair, Ten Hag said: “We can sort out everything internal, but Jadon chose to go public.”

Sancho trained away from United’s first team before returning to Borussia Dortmund on loan, whereas Rashford is in contention for Thursday’s trip to Wolves.

The England international scored the winner as a substitute on the Old Trafford side’s last trip to Molineux, having been dropped to the bench for poor timekeeping.

Ten Hag disagrees that starting Rashford on Thursday may send out the wrong message and pointed to his absence at Newport, where he rejected the player’s offer to travel down on Sunday after two days off ill.

“I didn’t pick him on Sunday,” the United boss added. “We draw the line and from that point on we move on.”

Premier League clubs have largely kept their powder dry in this transfer window but could there be a flurry of activity on deadline day?

Here the PA news agency takes a look at what could go through before the top-flight window in England closes at 11pm on February 1.

Could Rashford make a shock move?

England forward Marcus Rashford is under the microscope again following his alleged hijinks in Belfast last week, which led to internal disciplinary measures being taken by Manchester United.

While United say they have drawn a line under the matter, Rashford is not as settled under Erik ten Hag as he might once have been.

Any departure from Old Trafford in the next day or so would still be regarded as a major surprise but Paris St Germain are reportedly keeping tabs on United’s homegrown 26-year-old.

Chelsea offloading before buying?

Conor Gallagher has been an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s side this season but with just 18 months left on his contract and no sign of an extension, the England midfielder has been linked with a switch to Tottenham.

Fulham and Wolves are said to be tracking another of Chelsea’s academy products in Armando Broja.

But lightening the books could allow the Blues to follow up reported interest in Aston Villa’s Jhon Duran and Newcastle forward Callum Wilson as well as Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies.

Newcastle keeping busy

Newcastle were expected to be one of the biggest movers but they are having to juggle the restrictions imposed by profit and sustainability and financial fair play rules with a desire to strengthen.

Indeed, boss Eddie Howe said this week it was “impossible” to add to their squad without selling first.

Kieran Trippier, Miguel Almiron and Bruno Guimaraes have all been linked with moves abroad but Newcastle have managed to resist any overtures thus far and will hope there are no major departures on Thursday.

Blades want cutting edge defender

Rock-bottom Sheffield United have brought in Chile striker Ben Brereton Diaz and former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Ivo Grbic this month but manager Chris Wilder wants someone experienced to bolster his backline.

The Blades have shipped 54 goals in 22 matches – by far the worst record in the league – and Wilder says the club is working “frantically” to get something over the line before the window shuts.

Hammers go for Jota

With Said Benrahma reportedly close to sealing a move to Ligue 1 club Lyon, West Ham could target former Celtic winger Jota to shore up the wing.

The Portuguese only swapped the Hoops for the Saudi Pro League last summer but has been heavily linked with a return to the UK.

However, David Moyes’ side could meet resistance from Al-Ittihad given Jota has been in Saudi Arabia for just six months.

Erik ten Hag says his players have to be disciplined on and off the pitch as the Manchester United boss looks to move on from Marcus Rashford’s reported Belfast escapades.

The 26-year-old has been far from his best this season, scoring just four goals, and his decision-making off the field has brought further scrutiny and criticism.

Ten Hag called Rashford’s decision to go to a nightclub party after October’s 3-0 derby defeat to Manchester City “unacceptable” and stories emerged in recent days of more late-night exploits.

Rashford is reported to have gone out in Belfast last Thursday night until 3am, before reporting ill the following day and going on to miss Sunday’s FA Cup win at Newport.

United later said in a statement that “Marcus has taken responsibility for his actions” and that the “internal disciplinary matter” is closed – something Ten Hag referred back to ahead of Thursday’s match against Wolves.

“So, he has taken responsibility and for the rest it’s an internal matter – case closed,” the Red Devils boss said, before repeating “case closed” when asked a follow-up.

Erik ten Hag says he can finally select his strongest Manchester United team for the first time during his two-year Old Trafford reign.

United return to Premier League action at Wolves on Thursday buoyed by Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw all getting game time in Sunday’s 4-2 FA Cup win at Newport after being injured for much of the season.

It was the first time the trio had started together since the second game of the season at Tottenham in August.

Harry Maguire also made a late cameo from the bench in South Wales – his first appearance since December 12 following a groin problem – while Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana will be available at Molineux after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Whether Marcus Rashford will feature against Wolves after missing the Newport cup tie remains to be seen.

Rashford reported ill on Friday after reportedly spending the previous evening at a Belfast nightclub, with Ten Hag declaring the issue an “internal matter” that he would deal with.

But asked if the Wolves game could be the first time he played his strongest team, Ten Hag said: “It could be, potentially yeah.

“Maybe for the first time as long as I was manager that we can pick a team from a squad that is probably the strongest.”

On the return of key players, Ten Hag added: “I believe it is very important. Now they have to step up to match fitness 100 per cent.

“This game definitely helped, but we know also when we go into the Premier League the intensity is higher and they are forced to high levels.

“They had minutes in the week against Burnley. Now they have more minutes.

“This game was very helpful to make the next step and to be ready for Thursday.”

Antony scored in the 3-1 midweek friendly defeat to Burnley, which was played behind closed doors at United’s Carrington training ground.

The Brazilian followed that up by setting up Bruno Fernandes for the opener in Newport before ending a 31-game scoreless streak stretching back to last April when he made it 3-2.

Ten Hag said: “Antony had the assist on the first goal for Bruno and a goal.

“So end product, that is what we demand from him.

“The rest of his job should also be proper and that was the case.”

Newport manager Graham Coughlan, a United fan, admitted he was dreaming of an Old Trafford replay after the Exiles fought back from 2-0 down to level just after the break.

That money-spinning return was not to be as United booked a fifth-round date at Bristol City or Nottingham Forest, but the Irishman believes a memorable cup run can spark Newport’s bid to climb from 16th in Sky Bet League Two.

Coughlan said: “I don’t want this to be nearly, I want it to be the catalyst and the start of a little push, to gather as many points as we can before now and the end of the season.

“We’ve had a real tough time at the club with injuries, but we’ve got a few coming back.

“We can take that performance, that character and that resilience and build on it.”

Erik ten Hag says Manchester United are not in a position to underestimate any opponent as his stumbling side look to keep their hopes of silverware alive in Sunday’s FA Cup clash at Newport.

This has been a challenging second season in the hotseat for the Dutchman, whose side languish eighth in the Premier League and were eliminated from European competition before Christmas.

United’s Carabao Cup defence is also long since over, meaning the FA Cup takes on extra significance as their only potential route to a trophy in a disappointing campaign.

“It is the truth,” Ten Hag said. “But it is true that the league, of course, (offers) qualification for the Champions League.

“But the FA Cup probably is, it’s fact, the last opportunity for a trophy, so we would go for it.”

FA Cup glory would be a welcome shot in the arm for a club that is preparing to go through a big transition under Ineos, who are set to take control of football operations next month.

Incoming minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has a bloody-minded focus on improvements across the board and this competition could provide the platform for under-scrutiny Ten Hag to impress.

United have a kind-looking fourth-round assignment at Newport, but there is no chance of complacency seeping in against the mid-table League Two outfit.

“Also in the Netherlands we have a cup and also we also play against lower-class teams,” Ten Hag said of Sunday’s trip to South Wales.

“I know always when you go as a big club to a lower class team, how it will be and how you have to approach that.

“Definitely us, we are definitely not in a position to underestimate any opponent, so we will not do.”

By “lower class” Ten Hag seems to mean lower league, with Newport the lowest ranked side he has faced in any competition since taking charge at Old Trafford.

It is also a rare away day after the third-round trip to League One outfit Wigan earlier this month ended a run of home draws in domestic cups that stretched throughout his entire reign.

Rodney Parade is much different to the DW Stadium, a former Premier League ground, but Ten Hag is confident his players will cope.

That includes summer signing Altay Bayindir, who he confirmed will finally make his United debut between the sticks at Newport.

“You have been in Fenerbahce?” Ten Hag said when asked if he has any thoughts about picking the 25-year-old Turkey international given the specific challenges of such a tie.

“The pressure is also in Turkey, that is big pressure always, also for the national team, so he knows how to deal with that.”

Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro are in contention for Sunday’s game, but Marcus Rashford and Jonny Evans are doubts having reported ill on Friday.

Andre Onana and Sofyan Amrabat remain at the Africa Cup of Nations, while Mason Mount, Anthony Martial, Tyrell Malacia and Victor Lindelof are sidelined.

Newport manager Graham Coughlan admits Erik ten Hag is in the FA Cup firing line and warned Manchester United to expect a “unique and hostile” atmosphere at Rodney Parade.

United meet League Two County for the first time in their history in Sunday’s fourth-round tie, with 74 places between them in the football pyramid and millions of pounds on their respective balance sheets.

Yet Rodney Parade’s tight confines and a crowd of just under 10,000 will welcome United with Ten Hag, during a dismal season at Old Trafford, under pressure to progress in the only competition the Red Devils have a chance left of winning.

“It’s part of the job. He knows what he signed up for. We all do,” CoughIan said of the scrutiny the Dutchman will face in South Wales just weeks after Ineos chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe agreed to buy a 25 per cent stake in United.

“When you put yourself in the firing line, there are going to be bullets flying and coming your way.

“You’ve got to know how to handle that.”

Addressing the pressure and strains of management, Dubliner Coughlan – a self-confessed United fan who has previously been at Bristol Rovers and Mansfield – “I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been there and got the T-shirt.

“He’ll come through it. He’ll be experienced enough to come through it. He has good people around him and that will be the key.

“You do go through tough times and difficult periods, but hopefully they get to grips with it by getting a bit of leadership into the football club.”

Newport – who on Wednesday saw former Swansea chairman and owner Huw Jenkins complete his £500,000 takeover to become the club’s majority shareholder – have been in fine form on the pitch.

County have embarked on a seven-game unbeaten run and are on a high after beating Welsh rivals Wrexham last weekend.

The Exiles have also been FA Cup giant-killers in recent times, beating both Leicester, Leeds and Middlesbrough at Rodney Parade while holding Tottenham to a fourth-round draw before losing a Wembley replay.

Coughlan said: “Surprisingly everybody fit, there’s been a few miraculous recoveries.

“They probably studied the Wrexham game and what would have come through would have the atmosphere and the noise of our fans.

“Irrespective this season whether we’ve been winning, losing or drawing, our fans have got right behind us and at times dragged us over the line.

“That’s unique and a strength of this football club and community.

“You can hear everything (on the touchline), sometimes you don’t want to, because they’re that close. They’re on top of you and it’s a unique atmosphere.

“It is hostile, it is noisy, and when they start beating that drum it’s an atmosphere to savour.”

United have not played since a 2-2 home draw with Tottenham on January 14, and Coughlan joked Ten Hag’s squad had probably been sunning themselves in the Caribbean while his players had been “slogging it out” in the British winter.

“They’ll be well rested and sun tanned,” laughed Coughlan.

“They would have been in the Caribbean while we’ve been slogging it out in the wind and rain.

“It’s the Premier League, that’s privileges when you get to that level.

“But I don’t think that will make a difference. They’ll be fresh with the little break they’ve had, and we’re going up against an elite football club and a top group of Premier League and international players.

“Athletes, machines – call them what you want – we’ve got a lot on our plate and you’d anticipate Manchester United having more of the ball and creating chances.

“But we’ll have one or two moments in the game and it’s about taking those moments.”

Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has been ruled out until April after undergoing surgery on a groin injury.

The 28-year-old is out of contract this summer and has managed just 19 appearances and two goals in another disrupted campaign at Old Trafford.

Martial has not featured since United fans cheered his substitution in the 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth on December 9 and the club have now revealed he is facing an extended spell on the sidelines.

 

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“Manchester United striker Anthony Martial has completed successful surgery to address a groin complaint and will be out of action for about 10 weeks as he rehabilitates,” the Premier League outfit said in a statement.

“We wish Anthony a speedy recovery and look forward to his return.”

This is the latest in a long line of setbacks for a player who looks set to leave Old Trafford in the summer after the club decided against triggering the option to extend his contract by a further year.

Martial began his United career with a bang after joining from Monaco in 2015 but has failed to fully reach his potential, scoring 90 goals in 317 appearances in all competitions.

The Frenchman’s confirmed 10-week absence will perhaps lead to a change in approach to the January transfer window at Old Trafford.

United have been more focused on streamlining than making signings this month, but Martial’s absence leaves Rasmus Hojlund and Marcus Rashford as the only options through the middle.

This time last year, United bolstered their striking options by signing Wout Weghorst on loan from Burnley for the remainder of the season, having done similar in 2020 with Odion Ighalo.

The club will have to run any change to their January transfer strategy past Sir Jim Ratcliffe as the British billionaire prepares to take control of football operations as part of his minority ownership.

Erik ten Hag says goal-shy Manchester United must show a clinical edge if they are to kickstart their Premier League campaign against Tottenham.

This has been a bumpy second season in the hotseat for the Dutchman, whose side enter the weekend eighth in the standings having lost nine of their 20 Premier League games.

That is as many top-flight defeats as United tasted in the entirety of last season and victory against Spurs would improve the mood around a team playing just one top-flight game in January.

Ten Hag takes heart from his side’s performance in August’s 2-0 defeat in the north London reverse but knows a killer instinct is needed if they are to beat Ange Postecoglou’s men on Sunday.

“It’s definitely different,” he said of the visitors’ approach under the Australian, who swapped Celtic for Spurs in the summer. “I think it’s a really big compliment the way they played, so he changed the environment there.

“They play really proactive, it’s very enjoyable to watch them, with a lot of dynamics. Very proactive. And they combine it with good results.

“But also, when we played them over there, I think we can take belief out of that.

“I would say, especially in the first 35 minutes, we dominated them and we should have gone in the lead.

“But we didn’t, so we have to make our own luck and take control of the game, and then we have to finish the chances.”

United’s inability to make the most of their dominance caused frustration in Monday’s FA Cup third-round win at Wigan, when they had 33 shots but only managed to triumph 2-0 against League One opposition.

Only Burnley and Sheffield United, the bottom two sides, had scored fewer than the Red Devils’ 22 Premier League goals entering a weekend they will again be without Anthony Martial for.

The 28-year-old forward is out of contract in the summer and has managed just two goals and 19 appearances in another disrupted campaign, leaving Rasmus Hojlund and Marcus Rashford as options through the middle.

“He’s not fit, so he’s not OK,” Ten Hag said of Martial, who has not featured since United fans cheered his substitution in the 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth on December 9.

“We want all the players to be fit and prepared for the game. In this moment, he is not. We have to make him fit.

“It’s his job as well to get ready for the next game, but in this moment he isn’t. He is in medical treatment, and he has to recover.”

Martial joins Victor Lindelof, Mason Mount, Tyrell Malacia and Harry Maguire on the sidelines, plus Sofyan Amrabat is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Morocco.

There is better news about Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro, with Ten Hag expecting the long-term absentees to be involved on Sunday.

Luke Shaw, Antony, Christian Eriksen and Amad Diallo are also back in contention for the visit of Spurs.

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