Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag says he is “never” able to select his strongest XI because of squad inconsistencies and injuries.
Speaking ahead of United’s trip to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the Dutchman explained he was concerned by his squad’s injury record, with up to 12 first-team players currently sidelined.
Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Sofyan Amrabat and Mason Mount are among those on the injured list, with Ten Hag also confirming Harry Maguire will miss this week’s Champions League commitments with a “complaint”. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has also been lost since the weekend.
Jadon Sancho and Antony remain unavailable due to respective off-field issues.
Of United’s 21-man travelling squad, four are goalkeepers, while Ten Hag has only been able to name five defenders.
“One thing is true, from the start of last season I don’t think I ever started with, in my opinion, the best starting XI,” Ten Hag said. “There was always injuries.
“We always got results apart from the period we are in now. I have experienced it in the past and managed it. You have to deal with it. I like these situations because you have to handle it and know what to do, and that is focusing on the process.”
The United boss is already under scrutiny, and things could get a lot more uncomfortable if his side suffers defeat against the six-time European champions in one of the standout fixtures of the opening week.
United have lost three of their opening five Premier League games, including last weekend’s 3-1 home reverse against Brighton.
“The doctors are dealing with the problems,” he added. “First of all, injuries always come in top football because we are living on the edge.
“Of course, we analyse why things happen, but we also have to deal with the effects. We have to get the best out of it. We need to make the next step, integrating Rasmus Hojlund and Sergio Reguilon.”
Ten Hag’s belief about their path is why he is not getting thrown off kilter by the negativity heading into United’s first Champions League match in 18 months.
“No, we don’t feel that we need a reset,” the former Bayern Munich reserve boss said. “Absolutely not. We are in a process and what you see is that in parts of games we play very good but then also in parts of games we played below our levels.”
Kane: Teams in poor form can be dangerous
While Harry Kane has scored four goals already in the Bundesliga and Bayern are level on points with leaders Bayern Leverkusen, he has warned against reading too much into United’s contrasting form.
The striker, who played in five Champions League campaigns with Tottenham before signing for Bayern in the summer, said underestimating United would be dangerous.
“They’ve been going through a tough spell recently but sometimes that can make a team dangerous because they want to respond,” Kane, who was reportedly a prior target for at Old Trafford, told reporters.
“We’re at home and want to control the game but we need to be careful of their threat.
“I don’t think about form because every game can be different. There can be big response from teams going through a difficult spell.”
Kane and co could heap more pressure on slow-starting Man Utd
Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:
There will be something of a ‘here’s what you could have won’ feeling for Man Utd supporters watching Harry Kane face up against their side in Bayern Munich colours on Wednesday.
With a striker Erik ten Hag’s top priority in the summer transfer window, United’s desire to sign the England captain was no secret. But finances and Tottenham’s preference not to sell to a Premier League rival proved problematic.
Now an in-form Kane could add to their mounting early-season problems in Bavaria. Defensive and attacking numbers are on the decline for Ten Hag’s men, off-field issues are multiplying and a return of three defeats from their first five Premier League games has alarm bells ringing.
If the loss at home to Brighton on Saturday was a reality check, the fear is Bayern could deal an even more damaging blow to their morale and expectations for this season.
The return to the Champions League has been craved after a season away. This is where Man Utd feel they belong. But unless there’s a significant step-change against Kane and co, things could be about to get even more troublesome for Ten Hag’s travelling side in Munich.