Erik ten Hag has thanked Manchester City for Manchester United’s “reality check” in Sunday’s 6-3 derby defeat and insisted his team will step up.
After the game the manager criticised his players for lacking courage in a loss that ended a run of four consecutive league wins. Speaking on the eve of Thursday’s Europa League Group E match at Omonia Nicosia, Ten Hag said United would learn from it.
“Now we get a reality check with Man City, we know we have to step up. So thank you for the lesson, Pep and City. We will take that and we have to understand we have to do things much better,” Ten Hag said.
With his team 4-1 down at the Etihad Stadium Ten Hag brought on Anthony Martial for Marcus Rashford, keeping Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench. Ronaldo, who wanted to depart in the summer, has started one league game but Ten Hag denied this may cause him to leave in January.
“I can’t see that relation, that he’s not coming [on] when we’re 4-0, 5-1, 6-1 down,” he said. “I don’t bring him on out of respect, it’s nothing to do with what’s happening for the future or January or next year. I don’t see he’s unhappy, he’s happy, he’s training well, he’s enjoying it.”
Ten Hag was asked if Ronaldo – who could make his fourth start of the season in Cyprus – is content to be playing less. “He’s not happy that he wasn’t playing Sunday, but that wasn’t the question, the question was about how he is on the training pitch, his mood when he’s around, and he’s happy. Of course, he wants to play, he’s pissed off when he’s not playing. He’s really competitive, as we all know. He’s not happy when he’s not playing.”
Ten Hag was also asked whether respect for Ronaldo’s career persuaded him not to bring the 37-year-old on when the side was losing heavily but Ten Hag said the questioner already knew. “For me it’s quite obvious, for you maybe not, but I think you understand why this is.”
When it was suggested his explanation seemed to treat Ronaldo as a special case, Ten Hag said: “When you’re honest, you know there is a difference. For me there is no difference.
“I made myself clear, it’s always about how you live by the day, you line up the strongest team you have, but there are differences, nobody is the same in the team. I will treat everyone with respect but they all have different backgrounds, with the character they’re different, I have to treat players differently to get the best out of them, but there are general standards and values that count for everyone.”
United have three points and Nicosia none after two matches of the phase. Harry Maguire, Raphaël Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek are unavailable for United due to injury.