Erik ten Hag questions 'hunger' of players after Manchester United's thrashing at Brentford

·6 min read
Erik ten Hag questions 'hunger' of players after Manchester United's thrashing at Brentford - REUTERS
Erik ten Hag questions 'hunger' of players after Manchester United's thrashing at Brentford - REUTERS

Erik ten Hag questioned the “hunger” of his Manchester United players after they were subjected to one of the most embarrassing results in their history and were likened to a “team of Under-9s” by former captain Gary Neville.

United were thrashed 4-0 at Brentford, with all the goals coming in the first half, to leave the club’s new manager with two defeats from his opening two games and at the bottom of the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.

Ten Hag said: “I think we have all seen the game. Brentford were more hungry and we conceded goals with individual mistakes. You can have a good plan but [when those mistakes happen] you put the plan in the bin.”

Asked about his players’ lack of hunger, Ten Hag said: “We have to question it and we will do that in the coming hours.”

“They are my players and we are together in a really difficult situation, clearly, and we have to stick together and we have to find the sources [of the problem] and we have to find solutions.”

“They follow my instructions but they make bad decisions and that is football – it is a game of mistakes. We get punished.”

Gary Neville blasts Manchester United for playing like 'Under-9s' against Brentford - REUTERS
Gary Neville blasts Manchester United for playing like 'Under-9s' against Brentford - REUTERS

It was only the third time in Premier League history that United had conceded four goals in the opening half of a match and it was the club’s first defeat at Brentford since 1938.

Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, questioned Ten Hag’s selections and the desire of his players.

“For Manchester United, if you thought it couldn’t get any lower, it just has. Ten Hag has picked the smallest team he could, hoping they would out play Brentford,” he said. “You have to deal with the physical side of the Premier League. It’s like a men’s team against Under-9s.

“It’s a real achievement to spend a billion pounds and be this bad. You just need organisation and fight to dismantle this Manchester United side. Get 1-0 up and they’re flaky like you wouldn’t believe. They’re like jelly.

“Last Sunday [against Brighton] didn’t surprise me. I thought they would do better today away from Old Trafford. But they have been mauled. Bullied. Messed around like you would not believe in this first half-hour.

“It sounds very 1980s but you need that fight. Especially here at Brentford. All the things I was told as a youngster ring true. They don’t work as hard as the teams they play against.

“That United team don’t run hard enough, they don’t run fast enough but they are absolutely drained of all confidence. It’s a new low.”

Ten Hag’s problems were compounded when it emerged that Frenkie de Jong, their top transfer target, has indicated that Chelsea – not United – is his preferred destination should a move to the Premier League materialise in the final weeks of the summer transfer window.

The United manager said: “I don’t want to talk about that [the transfer market]. I want to think about the performance today. That was poor and so I want to think about how we can sort it.”

Ten Hag, already under pressure despite only being appointed in the summer, will be desperate to sign reinforcements before the Aug 31 transfer deadline, particularly after this disastrous defeat, which saw Cristiano Ronaldo recalled to the starting XI – to little effect.

He watched his side make multiple mistakes in a dire showing with goalkeeper De Gea liable for two of the goals, and substituted his new centre-half, Lisandro Martínez, at half-time. Asked about Martínez, Ten Hag said, “I subbed three but I could have changed them all. We want to bring some fresh energy into the game and not to be specific [in his criticism].”

Neville, meanwhile, said: “[Starting Martínez] has back-fired horribly. Set-pieces were always going to be an issue,”

“I was surprised they played 5ft 9in Martínez against [Bryan] Mbeumo and [Ivan] Toney. He has had his Patrice Evra moment. Hopefully he will learn a lot”, comparing the Argentine to the former United left-back who was hooked off at half-time is his first start for United against Manchester City in 2006.

Asked whether De Gea was still capable of playing in his system where the ball was played out from the back, Ten Hag said that he had confidence in his goalkeeper. “I have seen in training and in the first games that he can do it.”

De Gea offered an apology to United’s fans after the match, admitting it had been a “horrible day”.

To add to the sense of disarray at United, there were also protests by supporters at the Glazer ownership, while security also had to remove a pitch invader.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust released a statement on Saturday night, attributing blame to the owners and calling for “urgent and radical change”.

Ferdinand: ‘We are bottom… I’m going off grid’

Neville's former United team-mate Rio Ferdinand expressed his concern about his old team's performance.

“Brentford are slapping us up….my phones going off….my head hurts….my heart…HELP NEEDED,” Ferdinand wrote on Twitter. “We are bottom….I’m going off grid.”

Before kick-off, Neville said there were no longer “any excuses" for this United side. The former defender then questioned what Ten Hag could possibly say at half-time to try and turn the match around.

“He’s got nothing to do, he's got nothing to say. What can you possibly say to those 11 players? I think you’ve just got to send them out again,” said Neville.

“Manchester United have never been 4-0 down in the Premier League at this stage in a match. It's been a really good game plan from Brentford. I think United thought they would just come and play better football but it doesn’t work like that.”