Sunday, October 02, 2022

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United remain an attractive prospect for top players – and already boast some of the best talent in the world.

The Old Trafford giants are in the midst of a rebuild in the wake of a wretched season that saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s interim replacement Ralf Rangnick flounder as the side stumbled home sixth.

That miserable run continued in the first two matches of Ten Hag’s reign but the United boss has overseen an impressive turnaround since, with new signings make a promising start to life in the north west.

Antony celebrates his goal against Arsenal
Antony celebrates his goal against Arsenal (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Red Devils are aiming for a fifth straight Premier League win on Sunday when they travel to rivals Manchester City, whose striker Erling Haaland has hit the ground running since arriving from Borussia Dortmund.

United have had a long-standing interest in the 22-year-old but the striker’s father Alf-Inge Haaland revealed in a recent documentary that they were not on his seven-club list of potential destinations in the summer.

When that was put to Ten Hag and the United boss asked how the club goes about attracting the best players in the world, he retorted: “We have them already in.”

Pushed to expand, the Dutchman said: “Let’s say they have the potential, some have the potential to become (the best in the world) and some already are there.

“Because we have world champion players in our squad nowadays, so they are the best of the world. You can say that. We have a lot of players who already win the biggest titles in the world.

Raphael Varane
Raphael Varane is a World Cup and Champions League winner (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I’m sure when I go back in the window, a lot of players you feel that Man United is a really attractive club for them so I’m not concerned about that point.”

Ten Hag’s only concern right now is stopping City in his first Manchester derby, which means shackling the in-form Haaland.

The Norway international has scored an eye-watering 14 goals in his first 10 appearances for his father’s former club but the United boss stressed Sunday is about more than the striker.

“I like his attitude,” Ten Hag said of Haaland. “How he is on the pitch. He’s direct, his life is about goals – he goes direct toward the opponent.

“He can also create goals but, once again, I respect him but for us Sunday we are not playing against Haaland. We are playing against Man City.

“And it is not about Man City, for us. We respect the opponent but it is about Man United.”

Erling Haaland celebrates his hat trick against Crystal Palace
Erling Haaland will be wearing blue rather than red in his first Manchester derby (Nick Potts/PA)

The derby will also see Ten Hag face Pep Guardiola, who he knows well having managed Bayern Munich’s second team when the City boss was in charge of the perennial Bundesliga champions.

“Of course I know (him) but he will also know (me),” the Dutchman said. “I think we know everything about each other.

“When we worked together it was already eight years ago and as a manager one of the things is you always have to develop.

“Hopefully we changed in the right way. I’m sure he did and I did as well.

“And if he’s the best manager – he’s definitely one of them and for me he is – but I think there are much more really good managers.

“We have some world-class (managers) in this moment in football. That’s quite clear.”

Guardiola has a surprisingly poor record against United, having lost three out of his six Premier League games against them at the Etihad Stadium.

Luke Shaw, left, scores Manchester United’s second goal in their March 2021 win at the Etihad Stadium
Luke Shaw, left, scores Manchester United’s second goal in their March 2021 win at the Etihad Stadium (Dave Thompson/PA)

Luke Shaw wrapped up their last win there in March 2021 and boosted his chances of featuring in the derby by putting a poor start to the season at club level behind him with a fine display for England against Germany.

“No, not quite well – he did very well! We are really happy that I think almost all the players did well for their nations,” Ten Hag said.

“We followed that, it’s one of the aspects of an international break. Diogo (Dalot) scored twice, Bruno (Fernandes) played two strong games, Casemiro played really well, Fred did his job.

“Luke Shaw definitely, for me, played really strong against Germany.

“We saw a lot and we are happy with the performances from our players. I think it reflects what we are doing with Man United in this moment.“

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