Erik ten Hag banks on 'strong bond' with fans as Manchester United face Bayern Munich test

Red Devils need to defeat Bavarian giants to keep Champions League hopes alive at Old Trafford

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is feeling the heat in the Champions League. Getty Images
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Bayern Munich are unbeaten in 39 Champions League group games since a 2017 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. With such an incredible form behind them, the Bavarian side – clear leaders in their Champions League Group A – face a diffident Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

United, with only one win in five group games so far, need a victory to stand any chance of staying in the competition. That will be easier said than done as Bayern, who drew their last group game 0-0 against Copenhagen, have not gone two group games without a win since 2008.

Despite the magnitude of the challenge facing his team, United boss Erik ten Hag remains optimistic.

“We can beat any opponent,” Ten Hag said at the Carrington training ground when asked how his struggling side can win. “We have to show them the clips from Chelsea, how they can play. If we do that, all there, and we have a good plan – as I said – we can beat any opponent.

“We are not consistent, that’s clear, but we have also a very good performance and highs and if we get it and are in the right spirit then we are able to do it and beat any opponent.”

Asked how he would feel if United went out of Europe, Ten Hag said: “I don’t know. What I know is I never think of a negative scenario, we think positive. We know what to do, we have to win to stay in Europe, it's about that. We will prepare the team with that feeling, with that belief we are able to do it. We have shown in the last weeks when we are at our best, we can do it.”

The game is a sell-out, with 3,000 travelling Bayern fans expected. United have played in three stadiums renowned for their atmosphere in this group stage in Munich, Copenhagen and Istanbul. Now it’s Old Trafford’s turn to provide the best backdrop possible.

“I think Old Trafford is not a nice place to come for an opponent,” said Ten Hag. “We are aware of it. It starts with us and then you hope the fans, we are together. As long as I am here, I always have the feeling we are absolutely together, there is a very strong bond between the team and the fans even when we have big setbacks, they stay behind us, they support us, so I am very happy with that. We have to take responsibility, it starts with us, we have to energise them.”

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United lost 3-4 in the opening group game in Munich, but played well in the first 25 minutes before conceding two quick goals.

“There were stages in that game where we played very good,” said Ten Hag. “It was head-to-head (neck and neck) in that game for a long time. We also made some mistakes that were absolutely avoidable but one thing is for sure when you play Bayern Munich – you have to play your best, they have a good team and very good individual players. But as I say, Chelsea also has amazing players and we went head-to-head with them and dominated them so I think we can do it against Bayern as well.”

Asked why his team are so inconsistent compared to last season, Ten Hag said: “We had a regular team, not so many changes, I think especially in our backline. We had – for a long time – a regular formation and that helps. You get the routines in so we have to wait with that. Until that moment we deal with it as every team has to deal with it, it is not only us.

“But I’m sure when we get back to a regular base, we will get better and you have a better opportunity to win games and a better chance you are consistent.”

Asked if the problem with his team was with personnel or the mentality, he replied: “I think, first of all, it's personnel, I am aware, it's my job. We have to be really tough if we want to do it every third day. We are not the only team. I see inconsistencies from all teams in this period in the Premier League. Players are not robots. But the team who can deal with it best will go most far.”

Amid all the problems, midfielder Scott McTominay has been one of the few bright spots for the club.

“Obviously, we know the inconsistencies we have had, we are not naive to that,” said the Scotland midfielder.

“We have spoken about it as a group, with the coaching staff. The schedule is relentless and we can’t blame the backlog of fixtures and stuff like that. But we have to come together as a group and figure it out where we are slightly inconsistent at this moment in time. The boys are honestly doing everything they can do to contribute and do their best when they approach the pitch.”

McTominay is the team’s top scorer in the Premier League, providing some relief to the club and manager.

“Of course, the faith of the manager has been a massive one and you want to repay that as much as you possibly can when you do get minutes get on the pitch,” he said. “That’s the life of a footballer, you are going to have ups and downs in your career, it is not always sunshine and rainbows and for me I’ve always approached it that way.”

McTominay also said that it’s down to the players to stop the endless cycle of managers coming and going.

“It is the players’ responsibility, first and foremost – the players know that as well,” he said. “We have had many amazing players over the time and I feel like now we’re at a stage we have big characters in the dressing room. It’s not just a case like with some of the other managers where it’s been a little bit toxic at times. The boys are firmly behind the manager. That’s the be all and end all and the way it will remain.

"We’ve got an amazing coaching staff as well. People can get lost in translation and carried away with what the players think and what they say behind closed doors. We just want to do well for the football club and it’s as simple as that.”

United, who still have a serious injury list, will wait on the fitness of Victor Lindelof. The fans will still get behind United, even if they have little idea what to expect in the biggest game of the season so far at Old Trafford.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 3:10 PM