A scathing Erik ten Hag told his Manchester United players they lacked belief, and said they folded like a “pack of cards” after they were humiliated 6-3 by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola was enthused by his side’s display in which Erling Haaland and Phil Foden each scored hat-tricks, taking them up to second in the table, a point behind Arsenal. Antony and Anthony Martial (with two) scored United’s goals.
Ten Hag said: “It’s a lack of belief. When you don’t believe on the pitch then you can’t win games: that is unacceptable. The plan was to show bravery and confidence, but we didn’t from the first minute. We left Haaland and we were not tight. 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.
“We get undisciplined at following rules and you get hammered. For me it was a surprise. We were not on the front foot, we were not brave on the ball and there were spaces to play but we were not brave enough.
“I criticised them, I told them. Me 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 act much more brave. We are in the process and I knew before that big teams like City, when you are not good you get hammered and we were not good. We didn’t follow the rules of the way we play and you get hammered. We have to accept that but this performance was not acceptable.”
Ten Hag explained that United being so poor was why Cristiano Ronaldo remained an unused substitute. “I wouldn’t bring him in because out of respect for Cristiano, for his big career,” said the manager.
Many United supporters left at half time with their team trailing 4-0. “Yes, of course, in a derby when you are 4-0 it is unacceptable,” Ten Hag said.
The Dutchman is clear that his players must have the personality to accept his criticism. “They have to. They showed against Liverpool and Arsenal [United beat both] that when they perform as a team, when they bring the belief on the pitch, starting individually, they will show what they can do.”
Ten Hag suggested there will not be a repeat of the punishment of his team having to do extra running which he imposed after the 4-0 loss at Brentford. “That punishment was because they outran us and we didn’t work hard enough. It’s not always about punishment, of course, we have to criticise each other.”
Guardiola praised Haaland’s work ethic, saying: “He came and realised: ‘Oh, these guys, my mates, run like an animal and I have to do it too.’ But don’t forget his biggest talent is to put the ball in the net.”