Erik ten Hag has told Manchester United’s hierarchy not to hand out any new contracts until he has determined who warrants them.
United have eight senior players who are free agents next summer but with options to extend until 2024, including Cristiano Ronaldo, David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Fred and Diogo Dalot.
But Ten Hag wants to learn more about his squad until the season pauses for the World Cup in Qatar in November before making decisions on players’ futures.
United’s shambolic 6-3 defeat to derby rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday provided another reality check after a run of four successive league wins and club sources say the manager remains in the process of establishing who has the stomach and quality for the fight ahead.
“He’s still in that phase of ‘Let’s see how people are, let’s see what they are up to’,” one senior source said. “How they adjust, how they handle pressure, how they handle not being picked, how they deal with different challenges.
“He’s still understanding them and over the next month or so he’ll start getting clarity in his head.”
Under the previous regime overseen by the former executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, United often stood accused of stockpiling players and automatically exercising contract options or awarding new long-term deals that did not feel merited and created a false economy around depreciating assets.
Ten Hag wants to move away from that culture and is keen to ensure players do not fall into comfort zones and that any new deals are hard won.
While there is the possibility of some players leaving for free at the end of the season, such as Phil Jones, it remains to be seen if United opt to trigger the 12-month options in the contracts of others primarily with the intention of trying to sell them for a fee next summer.
With 12 senior players leaving permanently or on loan during the summer window, including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Lee Grant, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Andreas Pereira, United belatedly began the process of clearing the decks under Ten Hag.
Insiders claimed the club had been “bitten on the a--- by carrying people” in the past and that a desire for hungrier, more motivated players – coupled with the importance of keeping the wage bill in check – would drive change.
Ten Hag tells players to lay into each other during inquest
Manchester United’s players and staff have been encouraged to rip each other during an inquest into their wretched derby capitulation.
Ten Hag is due to hold a meeting at United’s Carrington training base on Monday and wants the squad and his coaching staff to feel free to criticise each other during the analysis of their collapse to City.
“It’s an open door - this performance was unacceptable,” the United manager told MUTV, the club’s in-house television channel, when asked if he wanted more from his players.
“As a team and as individuals, we will criticise each other [on Monday] and then we will learn the lessons and we have to do better, starting the next game.”
After morale boosting home victories over Liverpool and Arsenal, Ten Hag also said the City debacle was a reality check for his players and a reminder of where they are.
“I think it’s good that a team like City gives you the status where you are in this moment,” the Dutchman said. “It’s clear we did well against top teams like Liverpool and Arsenal, when we were disciplined and we followed the rules and principles, we had belief to play and we were on the front foot defending.
“Then you can bring a good performance and that can bring a result. When you don’t, when you are not on the front foot, when you are not brave to play, you get a result as today.”
Christian Eriksen, the United midfielder, branded the performance “far from acceptable” and said there were “a lot of things we need to change and a lot of things we need to do better”.
United face Omonio Nicosia in the Europa League in Cyprus on Thursday when Ten Hag will demand a response after accusing his players of a lack of fight and courage against City, which saw United fans leaving en masse at half-time with their side 4-0 down.
“The plan was to show bravery and confidence but we didn’t from the first minute,” Ten Hag said. “For the first goal we won the ball and could have created a great chance but instead we gave it easily away and then it was like a pack of cards.
“I criticised them, I told them [in the dressing room]. I made mistakes as well because I didn’t get the message through. With this lack of confidence, we cannot win games. I don’t think this attitude is Manchester United, we can be much more brave.
“We didn’t follow the rules and principles of the way we play and when you do that you get hammered. This performance was unacceptable. There are never excuses in top football, we have to bring results.”