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Ten Hag holds fire as United woes deepen

China Daily | Updated: 2022-04-25 10:20
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Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring Arsenal's third goal with substitute Alexandre Lacazette during Saturday's 3-1 English Premier League victory over Manchester United at Emirates Stadium in London. REUTERS

Erik ten Hag looks increasingly likely to be taking over a Manchester United team missing from the Champions League.

Potentially a squad of superstars in disarray, too.

Ten Hag said Saturday his "head and energy is for Ajax" and refused to comment on the latest defeat for United, the English giant he will coach next season.

Ten Hag saw his Ajax team take a step closer to the Dutch league title with a late 1-0 win against NEC just hours after United had slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal in the Premier League.

"I don't have any opinion about Man United's results because I show respect for people who are at Man United, and I am responsible for Ajax and that is what I comment on," the 52-year-old Ten Hag told Sky Sports.

"I always keep focused on the job I have to do, it doesn't matter what's around me."

However, he did admit that he has considered some of the challenges that will face him next season in England.

"You always spend time on the future, but my head and my energy is for Ajax," he added.

United's defeat at Arsenal followed its 4-0 loss at Liverpool in midweek.

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo making an emotional scoring return, United was beaten 3-1 at Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday and dropped six points off its rival in the race for a top-four finish.

Granit Xhaka blew kisses to the home fans-who have often criticized him-after his long-range, 70th-minute strike clinched victory for Arsenal in a wild game at Emirates Stadium that saw the host lead 2-0 after 32 minutes through goals by Nuno Tavares and Bukayo Saka before withstanding a fightback from United launched by Ronaldo's 100th Premier League goal.

The Portugal superstar, who missed the 4-0 loss to Liverpool on Tuesday while grieving the death of his newborn son, raised his left arm and pointed to the sky after scoring in the 34th minute.

Ronaldo might have had a chance to score an equalizer when United was awarded a penalty in the 55th after the ball struck the raised hand of Tavares at a corner. But instead of Ronaldo taking the spot-kick, compatriot Bruno Fernandes took over and sent a weakly hit effort against the outside of the post following his trademark stuttering run-up.

To make matters worse for Fernandes, it was his poor touch that gave Xhaka the opportunity to take aim and claim the crucial third goal for Arsenal, which climbed into fourth place above north London rival Tottenham.

"If you look at the table," interim United manager Ralf Rangnick said, "I don't think it's very realistic to dream and think of the top four."

Sixth-place United has four games left of a miserable season that will end with no trophies-for the fifth straight year-and see Ten Hag take over from Rangnick, the second of two caretaker managers installed by the club since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was fired in November.

Ten Hag has a major job on his hands to rebuild United into the trophy-winning force of old. Rangnick said Friday the team needed open-heart surgery as opposed to cosmetic changes and he was just as blunt a day later in assessing United's current problems.

"I think the whole group get on reasonably with each other-I'm daring to say they get on well with each other," Rangnick said.

"Quite obviously it's hard to motivate... to keep the energy level high," he added. "That's why it was still important to show some improvement and a reaction today, which was the case. Obviously there is no substitute to success."

This was another worrying defensive display after United's mauling by Liverpool.

Club captain Harry Maguire was left out by Rangnick, because of a combination of the England defender's poor recent form and the fact he received a bomb threat at his home during the week.

"After all the issues Harry had to deal with, it was a tough week for him," Rangnick said.

Saka went off injured midway through the second half but he had already done his damage by then. It was his curling shot that was palmed out by David De Gea straight to the feet of Tavares, who turned the ball home from close range in the third minute.

Then Saka scored a penalty for the second straight game-after doing so in the 4-2 win over Chelsea on Wednesday-after he was bundled over by Alex Telles. Eddie Nketiah pounced on the loose ball and converted his shot but was adjudged offside, only for VAR to spot the foul on Saka in the buildup.

City slickers

Gabriel Jesus scored four goals as Manchester City thrashed Watford 5-1 to open up a four-point lead at the top of the standings.

Jesus, who was strongly linked with a summer move to Arsenal last week, was one of those recalled to the starting lineup and gave manager Pep Guardiola a tough call to make in his selection for Real Madrid's visit to the Etihad on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal.

The Brazilian took just four minutes to open the scoring with a tapin from Oleksandr Zinchenko's cross and doubled City's lead by heading home Kevin De Bruyne's wicked ball into the box.

Hassane Kamara's fine strike briefly gave Watford hope, but Rodri's stunning volley quickly restored City's two-goal cushion.

Jesus completed his first Premier League hat-trick from the penalty spot and had De Bruyne to thank for another inch-perfect pass as he blasted in his fourth.

"I'm happy it was my day," said Jesus. "Now is the best moment of the season-when you decide the games and win the trophies. That's what football is for us."


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