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Erik ten Hag insists Manchester United moving in 'right direction' despite defeat to Fulham

Man Utd handed eighth home defeat of the season by Fulham on Saturday - but Erik ten Hag insists club are moving in "right direction" and credits players' "great character"; Man Utd eight points off top four and were knocked out of Champions League in the group stage

Erik ten Hag
Image: Erik ten Hag has overseen eight home defeats in all competitions this season

Erik ten Hag insists Manchester United are moving in the "right direction" and the "bigger picture looks very good" - despite losing 2-1 at home to Fulham.

Marco Silva's side handed United a deserved eighth home defeat in all competitions this season, with Alex Iwobi's dramatic 97th-minute winner snatching all three points.

United were insipid in attack for long periods at Old Trafford, with Rasmus Hojlund injured and Omari Forson handed a first senior start in place of Antony - the £86m winger who was again named on the bench.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Manchester United and Fulham

It was the hosts' first defeat since Sir Jim Ratcliffe's investment in the club was approved and came with INEOS's Sir Dave Brailsford watching from the stands.

The result - and the nature of the performance - raise further questions of Ten Hag, whose side are sixth in the Premier League, eight points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa.

But the manager remained positive in his post-match press conference, saying: "You have to see the bigger picture and the bigger picture looks very good."

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Watch Paul Merson's amazed reaction on Soccer Saturday as Fulham's Alex Iwobi stunned Old Trafford as his stoppage-time winner gave the west London side a 2-1 win over Manchester United.

As well as Hojlund, United lost Casemiro to a head injury against Fulham, while Mason Mount, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw are also currently sidelined - something Ten Hag believes is a factor in their underperformance this season.

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"We have to catch up in many positions. We have to recover the injuries, then we will be more balanced," Ten Hag said.

"We have to also strengthen the squad in the transfer window. Many good players are coming up with really high potential.

"Definitely we are in the right direction. When we have the players available, we have a very good team."

Ten Hag: Players showed great character

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Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag felt his side allowed Fulham to escape from their control and steal a stunning win at Old Trafford

Ten Hag - who saw United relinquish the Carabao Cup they won last season with a 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle and oversaw a group-stage exit in the Champions League - credited his team for their performance against Fulham.

The visitors were on top for large periods at Old Trafford and led through Calvin Bassey's goal, only for Harry Maguire to seemingly claim a point with a late equaliser - until Iwobi struck.

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How much of a difference was there between the red card challenge of Billy Gilmour and that of Harry Maguire which only received a booking?

Despite suffering defeat at home to the side 12th in the Premier League, Ten Hag said: "We have done very good lately.

"We should have won this game because the team showed great character. We had slow starts in both halves and Casemiro was a big loss. We lost some stability in the team.

"The goal was very avoidable but we fought our way back in the game, so I have to credit the team for showing big character. We let them slip away."

Merson: I can't explain how bad Man Utd were

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Paul Merson was scathing in his criticism of Manchester United's performance in their 2-1 defeat to Fulham

Sky Sports' Paul Merson on Soccer Saturday:

"Man Utd were shocking. I'm not exaggerating. Absolutely shocking.

"How they think they can get in the top four… what's the point in getting in the top four anyway? They're not going to win the Champions League so what's the point in being in it?

"I thought Fulham did very well. They grew into the game and it was comfortable. They absolutely dominated the first half. They thoroughly deserved to win. It wasn't a smash and grab. Far from it.

"I can't explain how bad Man Utd were. It was so, so bad. No one played well. (Marcus) Rashford, no. (Alejandro) Garnacho, no. (Bruno) Fernandes, no. Even (Kobbie) Mainoo got subbed. No one today. Maybe Maguire for effort. He gets the goal and he should have scored another one.

"But honestly, really, really poor. [Sir Jim Ratcliffe] will be watching that today thinking 'wow, I put a lot of money on this'. You put all that money in and watch that today… they are a [million] miles away.

"The players as well. They are a [billion] quid away. I don't know how they're going to catch up. He said he wants to overtake Man City. Woah, pull it in. Try and take over a few of the others first.

Harry Maguire and his Man Utd team-mates cut frustrated figures during the 2-1 defeat to Fulham
Image: Harry Maguire and his team-mates cut frustrated figures during the defeat to Fulham

"They have all been 'Polyfilla' results in the last five or six weeks. They have just been covering over the cracks.

"They scored with the last kick of the game against Wolves. It was smash and grab at Aston Villa. They weren't better than Villa that day. West Ham, they beat 3-0 but that was never a 3-0 football match. They were covering over the cracks and they got found out again today.

"Only Sheffield United have got fewer points away from home this season than Fulham so it's not like they are serial away-day winners who know how to play away from home.

"It's at a stage now where you look at Man Utd and it's like it was with England about 10 years ago, when you used to say, 'I'm not sure they will win a competition in my lifetime.'

"They need to go and get (Dan) Ashworth. I'd rather pay £30m for him than a £30m player. They need to start from the bottom.

"But this is going to be very slow. It's not going to be overnight. If Man Utd went and won the league in the next five years, whoever is the manager should get knighted. Seriously.

"Get that team to win the league over 38 matches? Absolutely no chance."

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