Erik ten Hag sets fresh challenge for Manchester United players with ‘surprises’ expected

Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are players who 'surprised' Erik ten Hag last season.Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are players who 'surprised' Erik ten Hag last season.
Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are players who 'surprised' Erik ten Hag last season. | Getty Images
The Manchester United manager spoke bullishly ahead of a third season in charge.

Erik ten Hag has said there will be ‘surprises’ at Manchester United this season and claimed he expects at least one unlikely player to step up during the campaign.

Beginning his third term in charge at Old Trafford, Ten Hag’s squad looks drastically different to the one he inherited from Ralf Rangnick two years ago. While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Harry Maguire have underwhelmed for long spells during Ten Hag’s premiership, others have excelled.

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In particular, United’s stellar youth talent has shone through. Twelve months ago, Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho were peripheral figures at Old Trafford but are now among Ten Hag’s most trusted players. Likewise, few expected Jonny Evans to play such a significant role last season, while Diogo Dalot’s progression to first-choice right-back during the campaign was not widely predicted ahead of 2023/24.

Speaking in his first interview ahead of the new season - and the first since he signed a new contract at Old Trafford - Ten Hag said he knows certain shock players will step up and impress him over the coming year.

“In every season, after a break you will have surprises,” he told the club’s internal media. “We’re looking forward. We’re so curious: who is it this season, the surprise who can contribute to our team?

“Like last year, Kobbie Mainoo, Alejandro Garnacho coming up and playing a big role. They are the two goalscorers in the [FA Cup] final. Today, we started, but which player is there who can do the same?”

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After a lacklustre Premier League season last time out, Ten Hag knows he will need to radically improve this term. A change of sporting and coaching structures around him should help with that, as well several incoming transfers over the coming weeks.

The Dutchman will also point to a positive end to last season - in particular the FA Cup final - as proof that the team are capable of high-quality performances. Ten Hag said the challenge now is for his players to repeat that on a weekly basis.

Speaking about the cup final showing, the United boss said: “The standards we showed there: togetherness, spirit, belief, resilience, determination. All those standards, we need. 

“When we bring this, on a daily basis, here to Carrington, when we make this a way of life and go into every game with those standards, we have a very good chance to be very successful.

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“We won an FA Cup, we won a Carabao Cup [over the last two years],” he added. “But also we have high expectations from ourselves. We know it doesn’t come overnight; we have to work for it. 

“We are highly ambitious, so we have to raise our standards day by day, and improve every day. Every time, we have to live with the line in our head – good is not good enough. We have to do better.”

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