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Under-fire Ten Hag faces spooky ‘Fergie moment’ as Man Utd boss heads to Forest

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IT IS almost spooky that Erik ten Hag heads to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup tonight haunted by the prospect of the axe.

It was the same for Sir Alex Ferguson back in January 1990 when Manchester United went there for a third-round encounter on the back of an eight-game run without a win.

Just over three years into Fergie’s time at Old Trafford and a defeat looked like it would spell the end of his managerial reign.

Instead, what happened was that Mark Robins scored the only goal, United won and  ultimately went on to lift the Cup at Wembley . . . and the rest is a long and illustrious history.

Ten Hag must have felt like his own brief innings was coming to a close yesterday as the Dutch boss fielded a number of bouncers from the media ahead of tonight’s fifth-round encounter at the City Ground.

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First, he had to address Jamie Carragher’s Monday Night Football dissection of his Manchester United tactics after they were beaten 2-1 at home by Fulham on Saturday.

Ten Hag suggested anti-United bias from the former Liverpool defender.

He said: “First of all, some analysts are very objective in their comments, very good advice. Some are very subjective.

“Jamie Carragher, from the first moment on, has criticised and now he wants to make his point.”

Carragher’s point was this: “Twenty seconds into the game against Fulham — it’s been the problem for Manchester United all season — there’s space between the back four and the midfield. We go to the reason why they’re poor defensively and can’t cope with counter-attacks, they’ve got no pace at the back and a lack of legs in midfield.

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“People say, ‘There’s no patterns of play at Manchester United. How do they play and what’s the philosophy?’”

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The fact that Ten Hag admitted that Carragher did indeed have a point during the first half — based on a “surprise” deployment of Fulham’s midfield — was indeed worrying.

Man Utd hero Mikael Silvestre explains reason why Sir Jim Ratcliffe should back Erik ten Hag

The 54-year-old even questioned his team’s “passion” during that period.

Ten Hag added: “I was not pleased with the defending, especially on the left side, how we did the pressing because they came out, especially in the first half an hour, several times on the left side. That can’t happen and that has to do with willingness, spirit, passion.

“That was, in the previous weeks, very good for this team and therefore we won football games.

“I know footballers are not robots. Sometimes they have bad days. But it can’t be, it’s unacceptable, we have to do better.”

News that the manager’s relationship with Marcus Rashford has broken down only adds to the unease at United, who stand eight points off the Premier League top four.

And you have to wonder what on earth is going on with his most expensive buy, Antony at £85.5million.

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Ten Hag has been at pains to defend the Brazilian, who played under him at Ajax, and reiterated how allegations of domestic abuse affected him earlier in the season.

Ten Hag said: “Now he’s left this behind but for a moment in the season it had an impact on him. You could see in his performance, in his attitude. But now he’s back.

“It affected him and the process is still going. Now he has to turn the point and to bring his big potential in again.

“Therefore you have to fight and you have to give every day the maximum. I see in the training what he’s doing and he will turn the corner.”

Sir Alex Ferguson's job was allegedly saved with an FA Cup win at Forest in 1990

Not just turn the corner but  disappear into the distance, he feels.

Ten Hag added: “When he plays like I know from the past, he is unstoppable. No defender can stop him because he’s one of the quickest players in the first ten yards.”

Shame he can’t beat a man, then.

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Ten Hag gave Antony less than a minute as a sub on Saturday having seemingly played everyone bar keeper Andre Onana on his right flank. This is the player he knows best at Old Trafford from their time together in Holland.

If he can’t get a tune out of him . . . 

All the time United’s new part-owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, is looking on and, in particular, at the recruitment side of the club with the money spent on Antony standing out.

The Ineos chief has hardly given Ten Hag a ringing endorsement in his early interviews. But the manager is comfortable with that.

He said: “I’m under contract for three seasons, so I don’t care.

“I am in this process, I’m only focusing on the process, so I don’t care what’s going on around me.

“I have many talks with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, also with Sir Dave Brailsford and others in that group.

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“So I know what we are talking about and I have a strong belief and I feel that they believe in me.”

A belief that will be sorely tested if United’s trophy dreams for this season are ended tonight in Nottingham.

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Source: The Sun

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