Manchester United in better position than last year, says Erik ten Hag

<span>Erik ten Hag said young players like <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Alejandro Garnacho;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Alejandro Garnacho</a> had improved his squad.</span><span>Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters</span>

Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United are in a better position than a year ago despite missing out on Champions League qualification and potentially failing to secure any European football next season.

United head into their final day trip to Brighton sitting in eighth and need to better Newcastle’s result at Brentford to finish seventh and guarantee a place in the Europa Conference League, while defeating Manchester City in the FA Cup final next week would earn a spot in the Europa League. It is a long way from coming third in Ten Hag’s first season at Old Trafford.

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Asked if the situation at the club has improved overall compared with 12 months ago, Ten Hag said: “When you look at the results, you would say ‘no’, but we know the reasons behind them. I would say ‘yes’ because we have more players, more high-quality players in the squad and from that perspective we are in a better position.”

The impressive form of Alejandro Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Amad Diallo in addition to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment and structural changes have given fans reasons for optimism despite an underwhelming campaign, marred by injuries. “I think that we have developed some young players with high potential who can really add to the quality levels of our squad,” Ten Hag said. “With established, experienced players, they can make a very good mix and be a very strong squad that can compete at the highest level. I think that is also what we showed this season against top teams that often we are very competitive.”

Without the prospect of Champions League football, United could find it more difficult to recruit new players of sufficient calibre in a competitive market to take them back to the top four. Asked if qualifying for Europe’s third-tier competition would be embarrassing for United, Ten Hag responded: “I never think in a negative scenario. We have the opportunity left in our own hands, so go for it.”

A busy summer is expected at Old Trafford, with a number of players available for sale and others set to leave on free transfers. “I think, for every player, Manchester United is a very attractive club and of course you want to play at the highest levels,” Ten Hag said. “But if you want to go into a project in a club like Manchester United, I’m sure Manchester United is a very attractive club for every player.”