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Erik ten Hag says it is not right to question Man Utd players' character and insists his philosophy is clear

Man Utd have lost back-to-back home games by a 3-0 scoreline in the last week; Paul Merson claimed Erik ten Hag has "lost the players"; follow Fulham vs Man Utd on Saturday with our live blog from 11am; watch free highlights from 5.15pm

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Following back-to-back 3-0 defeats at Old Trafford, Erik ten Hag defends his coaching philosophy and why his side are 'clear' on their intentions

Erik ten Hag says it is not right to question his players' character, despite Manchester United losing eight of their first 15 matches this season.

United have suffered back-to-back 3-0 home defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle in the last week, with former captain Gary Neville describing the team's performances as "woeful".

Paul Merson told Sky Sports this week that he believes Ten Hag has "lost the players" but when asked whether his squad lacked the required spirit, the Dutchman insisted: "That's not right."

Ten Hag pointed to the two late goals United scored to win at home against Brentford last month, saying: "If there wasn't spirit and characters in the dressing room, we couldn't do this."

The former Ajax boss - who joined United in the summer of 2022 - said the response from his players to their recent results has been "positive", adding: "They want to put this right. We know the standards here.

"We have to match the standards, every day. We have had two big setbacks but this dressing room is strong, the staff is strong and this manager is strong."

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher clash on what the problems are at Manchester United following a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to local rivals Manchester City and where the blame lies after a lack of progress

'We can't play like Ajax - but my philosophy is clear'

Ten Hag raised eyebrows after the defeat to City when he claimed his United team would not be capable of replicating the style of football he elicited from his Ajax players.

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The 53-year-old was brought to Old Trafford primarily because of his success with the Eredivisie side but he sought to explain his comments ahead of the trip to Fulham on Saturday.

"I can't play like Ajax because I have different players," explained Ten Hag. "I came here with my philosophy, based on possession, but I wanted to combine it with the DNA of Manchester United, the players and their characters.

"Last year, we saw what that was. We played very good football.

"This season, the philosophy is not different, only I want to emphasise more on going direct.

"The explanation for me saying direct is that I want to go for long balls? No. I didn't want [Andre] Onana for long balls. I want to play from the back.

"We try it every game, also against City, but when a team is playing in such a high press, it is a good option to go direct.

"I explained in pre-season, in the USA, how we want to play, how we want to press. We want to press from different blocks and then go direct.

"We have the players like Rasmus Hojlund, Antony, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes who are very good in it. The passing of Christian Eriksen, our full-backs joining in.

"That was my idea - I think I explained it very clearly."

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However, Hojlund is yet to score a Premier League goal after signing for £72m in the summer, while Antony has failed to convince since joining for £86m last season and Rashford has just one goal this season.

Former United captain Roy Keane also called for Fernandes to be stripped of the armband last week and Jamie Carragher claimed United played counter-attacking football.

Ten Hag admitted his players are not executing the philosophy that he has laid out, saying: "The intention is clear but it's definitely the case the execution isn't there."

Man Utd's next five fixtures

  • Saturday November 4 - Fulham (A) - Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm
  • Wednesday November 8 - Copenhagen (A) - Champions League, kick-off 8pm
  • Saturday November 11 - Luton (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm
  • Sunday November 26 - Everton (A) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
  • Wednesday November 29 - Galatasaray (A) - Champions League, kick-off 5.45pm

'Injuries hurt but I don't want to make excuses'

Man Utd have been hit by a number of injuries this season - including to new signings Hojlund and Mason Mount - while Casemiro is the latest to be sidelined thanks to a hamstring issue sustained against Newcastle.

Ten Hag pinned the blame for his side's underperformance on those injuries, saying: "In the moment we're in, with so many changes every game, we can't line up the same two or three games in a row.

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"Last season, it was the same with maybe one player, but now we often miss players in the back four. Every time, we have to adjust and that doesn't help in our routines, and in midfield missing Casemiro too."

However, Ten Hag added: "I never brought this up because we have to win. I don't want to find excuses if we're not.

"We have to be more pragmatic but we have to win. That is the demand and I don't walk away from that."

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's impending purchase of 25 per cent of the club is adding to the lack of clarity over United's future but Ten Hag refused to speculate on what the billionaire's arrival would mean for his squad in January.

"I have a good squad and I'm convinced of the players in this dressing room," said the manager. "We have seen last year they can do a lot better but it's up to me to let them play better.

"I will put every effort in to get this done and I'm not thinking about windows. When the players are returning from injuries we will play better, definitely."

Ratcliffe to commit £245m investment

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is to commit $300m (£245m) from his multibillion pound fortune to Manchester United's ageing infrastructure as part of a deal to acquire a 25% stake that will be unveiled this month.

Sky News revealed that Sir Jim, founder of the Ineos petrochemicals empire, will pledge the investment alongside the acquisition of a shareholding likely to be worth more than £1.25bn.

Sources said on Friday that the £245m investment would be staggered, with the bulk of it being handed to the club by the end of the year.

They added that it would be financed by Sir Jim personally and would not add to Manchester United's existing borrowings.

Inside Man Utd's crisis: Regressing team mirrors lack of clarity behind scenes

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Manchester United fans have their say about what is going wrong at Old Trafford following back-to-back 3-0 home defeats

Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy:

United have been regressing since February, but the real scare is the deterioration in this campaign. It is an indictment for the club that the embarrassing numbers only scratch the surface of their disarray.

United have suffered the most defeats in their opening 10 league games since 1986/87.

Only Bournemouth (12 per cent), Luton (eight per cent) and Sheffield United (four per cent) have spent less time in a winning position across those games than Ten Hag's side (13 per cent). They have managed to create just 18 big chances.

As damning as those stats are, the data is not able to capture the off-pitch environment colouring United's on-pitch struggles.

The souring of relationships from the handling of the Mason Greenwood situation lingers. The club have exiled Jadon Sancho, a £73m asset, from the first team after failing to resolve a stand-off between him and the manager.

Antony is facing assault allegations, which he denies. There would be few dissenting voices to the opinion that the winger, signed for £86m, has turned in performances that suggest there should have been a decimal point in his transfer fee.

November will mark a year since United embarked on a strategic review "to enhance future growth" that has led to endless uncertainty, now culminating in the expectation the football operation will be overhauled should Sir Jim Ratcliffe's INEOS obtain a 25 per cent stake in the club.

A "business as usual approach" has been undercut by the knowledge over the past 12 months that, as one source put it, "change can come fast, without anything we could do about it and without really knowing about it".

United's unconvincing displays - there is no discernible playing identity - are a mirror of their lack of surety as a club.

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