Erik ten Hag has warned it will take months for Manchester United’s players to develop the urgency and intensity he demands after so many years playing in a comfort zone.
United face Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday needing a swift response to their 6-3 derby battering by champions Manchester City.
Ten Hag’s side were forced to come from behind against Cypriot minnows Omonia Nicosia in the Europa League on Thursday and indebted to substitutes Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial from sparing them more embarrassment in a 3-2 win that featured more poor defending.
Ten Hag questioned the desire of his players after the City debacle, which evoked memories of their capitulation at Brentford in August when they were also 4-0 down at half time.
United have shown flashes of inspiration and intensity this season, including the victories over Liverpool and Arsenal, but ten Hag believes it is going to take a lot longer before his players have the mindset they need to compete with the best on a consistent basis.
“It's more - it's physical, it's mental, its also sustainability,” he said. “It’s like a routine, a way of life and you have to bring it to every training in your system, as a squad and an individual player, and when you have had a lack of it in the last years, it's not something that you build or progress in a week or a month.
“Now it's a system that has to be and a demand in nowadays top football. And it's quite clear City is the standard in that. There are more teams. But I think we can deliver that.
“We have seen it against Liverpool and we have seen it against Arsenal but now we have to do it on a consistent basis, that is what we have to work for now. It will not come overnight, it will also take more than weeks - it will take months.”
Ten Hag also believes United must address the number of bookings they are collecting. United are averaging more yellow cards per game - 3.3 - than any other Premier League side.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the former United manager, complained that the team were too soft and needed to develop a “nasty” streak.
Ten Hag agrees United need a ruthless, aggressive edge that makes them harder to beat but believes they must become more streetwise and stop inviting needless bookings.
Scott McTominay and Diogo Dalot are both one yellow card away from a one-match suspension, with ten Hag particularly mystified by Dalot’s challenge on City’s Jack Grealish on Sunday that drew a booking after just two minutes.
“I know nasty, I know what it is. In that manner we can progress sometimes also play a little bit smarter,” he said. “Like we have too many bookings and some in the start of Premier League they play tough.
“But I wonder (why) we collect so many bookings and I don't understand, like the first booking on Sunday, I really don't understand. “We want to play tough, we want to keep the game going and then in the second minute already it's a booking for Diogo.
“Also, I saw many other bookings where I think, 'Is that necessary?' But also take it to the players, I have to keep the reminder to play smart but they have to play nasty as well.”
Ten Hag is hoping to have Raphael Varane against Everton but does not expect Harry Maguire to be available.