Erik ten Hag was booed by Manchester United fans as his team slumped to a third Premier League defeat in four games on another unfortunate day for the crisis club.
Ten Hag was mocked by fans after replacing home debutant Rasmus Hojlund with Anthony Martial in the 64th minute of United’s 3-1 defeat to Brighton as the atmosphere darkened around Old Trafford.
This was United’s fourth consecutive league defeat against Brighton and they now face Bayern Munich in a forbidding Champions League trip to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
Goals from United old man Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross, who scored for the fourth time in three league games against United, and Joao Pedro left Old Trafford stunned. Some United fans even headed for the exit when Pedro made it 3-0 in the 71st minute, shortly before substitute Hannibal pulled a goal back.
Ten Hag disagreed with the notion that United were “in crisis” but urged his team to stick together in a bid to stop the rot.
“[Crisis?] No, but we have to be disappointed and we have to be very angry with ourselves because at United the demand is to win games,” the Dutchman said.
Asked if he was worried about the results, Ten Hag added: “For sure this is something that bothers me, but I also have to see the way we play, but ultimately it’s a question of character and now we have to see how strong we are and how much the team stays together and which players stand up and lead the team.
“Bayern Munich are one of the favorites to win the Champions League, so we have to be good there and I have already explained that we absolutely need character, belief, resilience and determination.”
Ten Hag, who dropped exiles Jadon Sancho and Antony from his squad, defended his decision to drop Hojlund, who made his first start for the club following his £72 million move from Atalanta last month , but is still working to get back to peak fitness.
United were 2-0 down and chasing the game at that point, but Ten Hag said he could not risk Hojlund’s fitness as he attempted to put a positive spin on the whistles.
“I think it was positive, you see the fans in the first moment [for Hojlund] at Old Trafford, the reception for him was fantastic,” he said.
“I think he behaved very well, it’s positive that they give this signal, this message, it will give confidence to Rasmus. But everyone knows he came with a little problem [in his back].
“We have built him up over the last three or four weeks, but he is not ready for a full game and we have a lot of games to play at short notice, so we need to improve our fitness.”
United fans were unimpressed to see Martial come on instead, but Ten Hag defended the France striker.
“I think it was because Rasmus came out [that the fans booed] but I don’t want to discuss it so I don’t know,” he said.
“But I think Anthony Martial last year every time he played had a very positive effect on our games, we almost didn’t lose any games with Anthony Martial on the pitch.
“So if that’s the case I don’t understand why when he’s fit he will definitely make his contribution. He’s not in top shape right now.
“First he has to be constantly available and then you will see his form improve but, as I said, every time he played last year he influenced our game in a positive way, so hopefully he can stay fit and contribute to our game .”
Roberto De Zerbi, the Brighton manager, believes his team should have won by a bigger margin. “I think you’re right, we could score more goals, especially in the last 25 minutes with Ansu Fati, a one-to-one chance with Onana, two or three more potential with Mitoma, with Ferguson,” he said.
“I think Brighton are not becoming a great team, but that’s no surprise, the quality of Brighton players is very high. I don’t know Manchester United’s problems but I can explain my team, we are used to working in our style, we play with courage, at Old Trafford we always defended to man, we kept the ball in every situation.”
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