‘I’m a realistic man’: Ten Hag admits Champions League hopes look bleak

Erik ten Hag has admitted Manchester United will struggle to qualify for the Champions League with the club’s mounting injury list a big factor.

United travel to Chelsea for Thursday’s late kick-off in sixth position with Lisandro Martínez and Victor Lindelöf the latest defenders to suffer muscle problems. The club announced on Tuesday that they will be out for at least a month.

Ten Hag’s squad has been plagued with injuries throughout the campaign. Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia are unavailable, meaning the return of Raphaël Varane and Jonny Evans to training is a welcome sight for the Dutchman.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is undertaking a structural review of United, with Ten Hag’s position under scrutiny. The manager was asked if the new minority owner will consider the number of injuries as mitigation should United not secure a place in the Champions League.

“I don’t know. And actually I also don’t care,” he said. “I have high standards and I would be disappointed if we didn’t qualify. I know it will be very difficult because we are not in a good position. But we want to win every game, that is the standard we have here among each other. We will keep going and keep believing in those standards.

“I know we are not in a good position. We have to catch up. Also I know we have had a lot of problems so I am a realistic man. In a competition that is so competitive and the teams are so close in terms of levels with each other, then you need the players to be available to make a consistent team to bring the routines in your way of play.

“If you have to make compromises your levels will drop, you will drop points. If you play in a consistent team your levels will go up. When you bring in the best players in your squad you will collect more points and that is a fact.”

In November the Guardian reported that United’s players had criticised the intensity of the club’s pre-season. Ten Hag did not believe training during the season is a reason for the spate of injuries, however.

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“No. We don’t train too hard. With the standards in this league, you need to be fit. Otherwise you can’t match the standards you are required [to reach] in a game. We don’t train too hard,” he said.

Can the issue be eradicated in future? “You can’t 100% avoid this, it is ­impossible,” he said. “Also we have national teams five times a year: you give the players away and you don’t have any impact. Some national teams manage the programmes, but there are also others that do what they want.”

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