Ten Hag happy with Garnacho progress but insists 'there is a lot of room for improvement'

Man United teenager played key role in derby victory over City despite problems wth attitude early in season, while Dutch manager also praises winning mentality of Luke Shaw

Manchester United's Alejandro Garnacho attempts to escape the attentions of Manchester City defender Kyle Walker during the derby at Old Trafford on January 14, 2023. EPA
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Alejandro Garnacho’s progression has been one of several positives for Manchester United in recent months. The 18-year-old was introduced in the Manchester derby with his side 1-0 down to a Jack Grealish goal.

The Madrid-born Argentina youth international was full of energy and attacking intent – and within six minutes his side were level. Within 10 he had set up Marcus Rashford for the winner.

Garnacho’s attitude was not to manager Erik ten Hag’s liking at the start of the season so he simply was not part of the Dutch coach's plans. Asked after Saturday’s Manchester derby how much improvement he’d seen in Garnacho’s attitude and all round play, Ten Hag replied: “A lot. He has a skill that I don’t see many players in the Premier League having – he beats players one on one.

“But he’s learnt in the last months about how to play in a team, how to live, how to do the right things in the week, how to have the right attitude on the training ground and you see how he’s acting as a team player and with his individual skills that can make the difference.”

Ten Hag has stressed that Garnacho needs to put in consistent effort. “He needs to keep going. It’s not done. There is a lot to come. There is a lot of room for improvement with him but he can help, he can contribute on the highest level already and I’m really happy.

“It’s a bonus for us as a club that you bring in young players and they can come not only into the squad, but the team and I think that is a part of our project that has to contribute to our success.”

United play Crystal Palace on Wednesday and Garnacho came off the bench when they last played at Selhurst Park in a 1-0 defeat for the final game of last season. The mood among the players and fans is utterly unrecognisable since then, something which the Dutchman is well aware.

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“At Selhurst Park with the atmosphere there it’s a difficult place to go. You have to be really good, you have to be 100 per cent. They’re a good team Palace, they’re a physical team, they will battle us from the first moment on. So we have to be really focused and have the right energy levels to beat them - that’s quite clear.”

Nonetheless, Ten Hag is impressed by how his players are following his instructions. “How I see they transfer the plan to the game I think was brilliant,” he said using Saturday’s derby as an example.

“To see how they are in possession. We talked about the role of Bruno Fernandes [against City] but out of possession – how we defended against the front players of Manchester City – it was really good. Yes, I trust them. They were behind the plan fully, 100 per cent, and controlled the game for long periods in the first half.”

Ten Hag believes Saturday will help give his side the belief great United sides had. “I am convinced of that,” he said. “Teams need experience to build that mentality, to build that belief, that a game is only over when the ref whistles for the last time.

“To stay in the game you have to construct that and you need experiences like this to improve even more and push it even more to a higher level of mentality.”

One reason United have been successful is that Ten Hag has made the correct calls when selecting players. Luke Shaw lost his place in the side at the start of the season but forced his way back and is playing very well – even managing to keep Erling Haaland quiet on Saturday.

Ten Hag was pleased with his attitude and application. “It’s quite obvious,” he said of Shaw. “I like that he’s so honest. After the second game he didn’t play and said: ‘I fully understand, my performance is not right’.

Man United defender Luke Shaw heads the ball clear under pressure from Man City's Erling Haaland. PA

“But from the first day in training at pre-season he was working really hard and you can see when he has the right approach he’s a top player – I don’t mean only as a team player, he’s a leader.

“He’s showed a lot of leadership capacities – he’s the example at this moment – and with his skills and with his physical power he brings a lot to the team. But now also with his mentality. He’s an example of how to win big games. I’m happy with his development.

“I think it’s been huge either at centre-half or left full back, he’s a great player and a great personality for the dressing room.”

It was Ten Hag’s decision to play Shaw, normally a full-back, against Haaland. “It is a big decision but I think when you analyse the profile of Haaland and the combination with [Kevin] De Bruyne it was also the right decision because Luke has the physical power to compete with them and also has the tactical view to make the right decision and technical skills to play in that position,” said ten Hag.

“So I think [against City] it matched really well but I think in other games he can contribute even more on the left in the wide positions so it’s a tactical choice and we can see from game to game what we need. And I think we have more players in our squad who have the capacity to be multi-functional and we can use that as a weapon in games.”

Updated: January 17, 2023, 10:00 PM