Erik ten Hag has hit back at suggestions that he is presiding over widespread player unrest at Manchester United, insisting that only "one or two" players have questioned his approach. Following Saturday's 1-0 loss to Newcastle United, several reports emerged suggesting that the Dutchman was facing widespread doubt within the dressing room, including some claims that as much half of the dressing room had turned on their manager.
United's response was to ban reporters from four outlets -- the Manchester Evening News, Daily Mirror, Sky Sports and ESPN -- from Ten Hag's pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow's game with Chelsea. That decision was made, a spokesperson said, not because they did not want the piece to be written but because they were unhappy that they had not been contacted prior to publication.
Meanwhile, Ten Hag told those who had been allowed into Carrington that there was no disorder within his squad. "Not in the dressing room," said the United boss. "Of course there are a lot of rumors, but it is not that we get distracted by it. "We are on a journey. We know we are in transition but we are in the right direction.
"We construct a team, develop it, the team is progressing, young players are coming in and you see the potential of how they can contribute to a successful Manchester United team for the future."
Asked whether he listens to his players, Ten Hag added: "I always listen to my players and I always give them opportunities to tell, if the players have a different opinion of course I will listen," he said. "But they haven't told me – or maybe one or two. But it is about in general: the majority, they want to play like this – proactive, dynamic, brave, that is what they want. You can see the players are behind it because of the performances against Everton [a 3-0 win ] and Galatasaray [a 3-3 draw].
"Do you think we can make the goals we did against Everton if the players don't embrace it? I am sure [the players back me]. You can see for instance the comeback against Brentford [a 2-1], the Burnley game [a 1-0 win], the Fulham game [a 1-0 win]. You can see you can't play such great football as we did lately if there is no unity."
That Ten Hag chooses to apply the "great football" label to perfunctory wins over bottom half teams such as Burnley and Fulham, the latter as poor a performance as any United have delivered in defeat, does offer some indication as to why there are so many debate outside the club over his future.
The Red Devils might only be five points off Aston Villa in fourth, but a defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday could see them leapfrogged by Brighton and West Ham. They sit 12th in a Premier League ranking by expected goal difference, trailing the likes of Everton and Crystal Palace, while they have reached double digits for defeats earlier than in any season since 1973-74, when they were relegated from the top flight.
Ten Hag, however, insists that United are "really improving." The reality might just be that they've run into an extremely favorable fixture list which saw them face bottom half teams in six of eight league games prior to their defeat at Newcastle. That is changing somewhat between now and Christmas with Liverpool and Aston Villa on the near horizon after the visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford.
For that meeting with another big name who are far lower in the standings than they may have expected, Ten Hag will have to trust in the squad that so struggled against Newcastle at the weekend. With Mason Mount, Christian Eriksen and Jonny Evans all in line to return in the near future, Ten Hag said he will have "more or less" the same squad for Wednesday's game as he did Saturday's.
He will need a far, far better display if he is to quell the burgeoning questions over his job.