Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag believes Champions League qualification is back on but not getting ahead of himself

February 15, 2024

Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United are back in the race for Champions League football, but it is too early to say his side have turned a corner.

United claimed a late 2-1 win over Aston Villa last Sunday, their first away victory against a top-six side under Ten Hag, to make it three Premier League wins in a row and move within six points of fourth.

A favourable run of fixtures for United, which begins at Luton on Sunday - live on Sky Sports Premier League - presents Ten Hag's side with the chance to make ground on their rivals after a miserable start to the season.

"I think it's too quick to say we've turned a corner," says Ten Hag, whose team are unbeaten after six games in 2024.

"We're not there yet. We're back in the race but this club as a minimum want to be in the top four, as a minimum. But I feel we're now heading in the right direction."

Injuries have ravaged Ten Hag's squad this season but the returns of Casemiro, Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire have lifted United since the new year.

Losing Lisandro Martinez for another long spell has been a rare piece of bad news in an otherwise promising period for United.

"I was convinced that when the players were available in this squad, we had the quality to play in the first four," added Ten Hag. "I was convinced across the whole season, but now we have to prove it on the pitch."

Ten Hag says United's limitations in the summer transfer market have slowed down their path to challenging for the Premier League title.

United spent £183.5m, the fifth most among Premier League clubs, as they tried to build on a promising first season for Ten Hag which saw them finish third in the league and win the Carabao Cup.

England's Harry Kane, a long-term target at Old Trafford, was available but United did not enter the race due to the price of the deal for the 30-year-old, preferring the £72m Rasmus Hojlund, 21, from Atalanta.

Asked how long it will take to become a title contender, Ten Hag said: "It's difficult. In the summer, we were in a very good momentum.

"We won a final, we were in another and we finished third. We decided to bring in young players for the future as this had to do with FFP. We made that choice but it means it takes longer to get into the top positions of the Premier League."

Keane And Neville unconvinced by Man Utd

Gary Neville says Manchester United are "still not great" despite continuing their winning run at Aston Villa, while Roy Keane says Ten Hag's side have "got away with it" in their recent results.

"They can claw it back," said Neville about United's Champions League ambitions. "They've been appalling in the first half of the season. They've lost so many matches it's untrue.

"If they keep their players fit they have got a chance. Because of course they are better when they have their strength in their team. All teams are when they have their players back.

"The front three look more settled with [Marcus] Rashford, [Alejandro] Garnacho and [Rasmus] Hojlund with Bruno Fernandes in behind.

"They're better than they were but they're still not great. They concede so many chances, they don't really have any patterns, they don't control games or keep possession better than the other teams. But they do have players who can win matches.

"They are an odd bunch, I've said that for a few years, they play in moments during matches."

Keane says Tottenham and Villa will be "getting worried" about United picking up results, but adds that Ten Hag's forwards are getting their defenders "out of jail".

"United still gave up loads of chances, the problems are still there for them," Keane said after the Villa game. "They got away with it today, because the attacking players are scoring goals.

"But there's no surprise the amount of chances they give up, they do it every week. They've got away with it in three or four weeks. Their attacking players are getting them out of jail.

"The key for me is the attacking players are scoring goals. And what they've got, which Villa don't is that momentum.

"If you're in the Spurs and Villa dressing room and you see Man Utd coming up behind you, you're going to be worried. History will play a part, they've got the goals."

Man Utd's squad ranks as most expensive ever

Manchester United had the most expensive football squad ever assembled last season, according to a new UEFA report.

The findings reveal Erik ten Hag's squad cost a staggering £1.2bn in transfer fees last term, when this side secured a third-place finish in the Premier League, won the Carabao Cup and finished runners-up in the FA Cup.

The record-breaking figure includes huge fees splashed out on Antony (£86m), Harry Maguire (£80m), Jadon Sancho (£73m) and Casemiro (£70m) - but excludes several expensive acquisitions signed last summer, who arrived after the 2022/23 financial year.

European and domestic champions Manchester City sit second in the rankings with a squad cost of £1.1bn, followed by Chelsea (£927.2m, *2021/22 financial year), Real Madrid (£881.9m) and Paris Saint-Germain (£802.4m).

In terms of Chelsea, that total is likely to explode for 2022/23 given the Blues have spent £1bn on new signings since it was calculated, having undertaken a record-breaking transfer splurge after Todd Boehly bought the club.

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