ERIK TEN HAG will not let the World Cup become an excuse for any of his stars not hitting the ground running when the scrap for a top four slot resumes.
Ten Hag had 13 players in Qatar – only champions Manchester City, with 16, had more – and the United boss feared it would bring his rebuilding plans to a grinding halt.
Yet that doesn’t mean the Dutchman will accept anything but a flying start when they get back to domestic action against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday.
And that includes centre back Lisandro Martinez, who has spent the past few days celebrating Argentina’s World Cup triumph.
Ten Hag insisted: “We all knew the restart was five or six days after the final, and everyone has to be ready and accept it.
“The manager and coaching staff of course, but also the players – they have to accept it as well if they want trophies.
“We spoke about the tough competition but we have to be ready for that and deal with it. We have to do it smart and hopefully get the right performance and results.
“We have a plan for all the players, and it’s all individual based. No one is the same or has the same programme or minutes. It depends on the positions and their age.”
Martinez and French defender Rafa Varane are the only two players still to return to training after being in Qatar for the duration of the tournament.
Both will be assessed before ten Hag decides if either will feature against Forest, and his selection is also dependent on Harry Maguire recovering from illness.
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Ten Hag added: “I don’t know yet. I couldn’t answer. Martinez is still celebrating in Argentina, and I can understand that.
“Winning the World Cup for your country is the highest you can be – but he also has to accept that on the 27th the Premier League comes back.”
United return to Prem action one place outside the Champions League slot, albeit with a game in hand on Tottenham.
Ten Hag knows a top four finish is the minimum requirement and crucial if he hopes to attract the world’s best players to Old Trafford in the summer.
It means the United gaffer is arguably under more pressure than any of his peers to command a place at Europe’s top table – yet it is a burden he relishes.
He admitted: “I accept how it is, I accept that pressure. But also for the manager of Chelsea, of Newcastle United, those clubs who have invested a lot in their squad.
“It’s big pressure for all of us to get into the top four. We want to be in there and fighting for trophies – that’s our aim.
“We are aware the competition is tough but that also counts for the seven or eight clubs fighting for the top four.
“For anyone watching the Premier League, it is great for them, it’s very exciting for them. I am looking at the process of how we are performing.
“Of course, we have to get the results as well but the process is right, we are making progress, and I think we have a good opportunity and a good chance to make that top four.”
Meanwhile, United are already drawing up plans for next summer’s pre-season tour, which will almost certainly be to America.
Final details are still to be confirmed, but they are set to return to the States for the first time since 2018, with the West Coast the likely destination.
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