Erik ten Hag told his players that their drop-off in the defeat at Tottenham was unacceptable as the Manchester United boss accused some of the team of not running or sticking to their jobs.
Having finished third in the Premier League and won the Carabao Cup during a promising first season in charge, Ten Hag began the new campaign with a 1-0 win against Wolves but United were fortunate to get anything from the game.
The Red Devils were then beaten 2-0 at Spurs after a fine start faded in the capital last Saturday, but the manager hit back at suggestions his midfield was to blame.
“You also have to make clinical analysis and that assessment is not right,” Ten Hag said. “It’s not about the midfield.
“It was about the back and the front. That’s why we were open.”
Pressed on what those areas of the team were not doing, the United boss retorted: “They didn’t run, or they run in the wrong moment, too late, especially the front, didn’t recover.
“It happened, you can’t turn it around. But it’s a demand here, if you want to win games.
“First 35 minutes, we were so good and we dominated the game totally. We should have scored minimum once, but I think two.
“They were nowhere, nothing, and then things happen in the game and they got distracted, not doing their jobs anymore. That’s not a demand from a Manchester United player and from our team.
“I am not used to it from this team because they always do (it). The demand for Manchester United is you do it 90 minutes and you do it every game, no matter what.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 25, 2023
The 53-year-old’s frustration was made clear in the press conference previewing Saturday’s match against Nottingham Forest, just as it had been to the players in the build-up.
“I told them, I gave them the feedback that this is not acceptable,” Ten Hag said.
“We have to work as a team, we have to do it with togetherness. Every individual has to take responsibility.”
Asked if they are big enough to take that responsibility and accept criticism, the United boss said: “Oh, yes. We are in the same boat. I am responsible for it, me as well.
“We have to do that in togetherness and we have to face the first two games were not good enough, but still one we won.
“From the other we can take the positives. If we do the right things in the first 35 minutes, we have a very good team and we will win games if everyone is doing their job.”
The loss at Spurs also saw Bruno Fernandes face some criticism, particularly the recently appointed captain’s appeals for a first-half penalty and comments about the decision afterwards.
“Of course I back him and I think he has also to make his point,” Ten Hag said. “It’s justified and it was a clear penalty, so then you can express it.
“But also don’t get distracted by it. You have to keep focusing on your job.
“Last season when he (was captain), he did already brilliant. Now as well.
“He’s an inspiration, he’s an example for the team, he has the personality, so he’s a very good captain.”
Fernandes and United will attempt to right the ship at Old Trafford, where fans are planning to protest against the Glazers with a sit-in after Saturday’s match.
The club have lost their place at the top of English football during their ownership and look short, in terms of a quality and depth, of a title bid ahead of next Friday’s transfer deadline.
Ten Hag ruled out signing a striker but is understood to be keen to bring in a midfielder, while Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir has undergone a medical ahead of a potential move.
United may now also move for a left-back after Luke Shaw suffered an injury, with back-up Tyrell Malacia also absent and Brandon Williams departing on loan.
“It can be, because I think always we have to anticipate on situations,” Ten Hag said.
“If there are good opportunities, yes, but it has to be the right player otherwise we have to deal with the current squad.”