Ten Hag sticks with Fernandes as United captain after Liverpool pain

AFP , Wednesday 8 Mar 2023

Erik ten Hag launched a robust defence of Bruno Fernandes on Wednesday after the Manchester United captain was branded a "disgrace" for his attitude in last weekend's humiliation against Liverpool.

Manchester United s Bruno Fernandes reacts after the the English Premier League soccer match between
Manchester United s Bruno Fernandes reacts after the the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield in Liverpool, England, Sunday, March 5, 2023. Liverpool won the match 7-0. AP

 

Fernandes was accused of giving up and showing poor body language as Liverpool scored six times in the second half of their historic 7-0 victory at Anfield on Sunday.

The Portugal midfielder appeared to push one of the assistant referees and clashed with Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, leading some fans to call for him to be stripped of the captaincy.

Former United star Roy Keane called Fernandes a disgrace, but Ten Hag said the 28-year-old was the right man to lead the team and would remain skipper when club captain Harry Maguire does not play.

Hailing Fernandes as an "inspiration" ahead of Thursday's Europa League last 16 first leg against Real Betis at Old Trafford, Ten Hag told reporters: "I think he's playing a brilliant season.

"He's had a really important role in why we're in the position where we are because he's giving energy to the team.

"He's pointing and coaching players. He's an inspiration for the whole team but no one is perfect. Everyone has his mistakes and everyone has to learn.

"He will learn as well because he's intelligent. I'm really happy to have Bruno Fernandes in my team and I am really happy that Bruno Fernandes, if Harry is not on the pitch, is our captain."

United forward Marcus Rashford also backed Fernandes, insisting he was a role model for the rest of the team.

100 percent support

"I love playing with Bruno, as you can imagine. He's been a good leader for us even when he's not been captain, which is always a good sign," he said.

"I don't have anything negative to say about Bruno. Like the manager said, nobody's perfect.

"Sometimes you want to win so bad you end up doing things that are a little bit out of character but, listen, I 100 per cent support Bruno and am behind him."

United's shocking performance against Liverpool was especially surprising as Ten Hag's team had only just won the League Cup seven days earlier, ending the club's six-year trophy drought.

The Dutch coach held a debrief about the Anfield debacle with his squad on Monday, but he is keen to look forward rather than dwell on United's heaviest defeat since 1931.

"We have to set conclusions and we talked about the game. We have seen the game, we have to reset and bounce back," he said.

Asked if the players had let him down, Ten Hag said: "No, we are in the same boat. We win together, we lost together. We made a mess on Sunday and we have to deal with it.

"We want to be a big team, we want to win trophies so then you have to act different. After Sunday we got a big lesson."

Ten Hag had labelled United "unprofessional" in the immediate aftermath of the Liverpool game, but Rashford insisted his team had not thrown in the towel as Jurgen Klopp's men piled on the goals.

"We didn't give up, that's nonsense," Rashford said. "We were unorganised, yeah. Communication was bad, yeah, that's why we conceded the goals.

"We were trying to get a grip of the game when it was 2-0 and 3-0. We were talking but I don't think we were really in agreement of what to do.

"Like the boss said, it's about resetting now. That's all we can do. There's no point dwelling on what happened because we can't change it."

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