Eriksen: Man United ‘starting to believe’ under Ten Hag

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — When Erik ten Hag made Christian Eriksen one of his first signings as Manchester United manager, it was a statement about the type of soccer he intended to introduce to the club.

Eriksen is a cultured midfielder who is capable of receiving the ball in tight spaces and maintaining possession under pressure. He has the vision to unlock defenses and the control to dictate tempo.

He has not disappointed and stands as one of the big success stories of Ten Hag’s early reign at Old Trafford.

There is still work to be done. United has endured humiliating defeats — losing 4-0 to Brentford and 6-3 to Manchester City.

It sits sixth in the Premier League table and on Thursday faces FC Sheriff in the Europa League, which shows just how far the team has fallen after failing to qualify for the Champions League last season.

But Eriksen believes Ten Hag, who has already overseen confidence-boosting wins against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, is building something significant at United. And with United having gone nine years without winning the league title, he says the revolution being carried out by the Dutch manager is also seizing the attention of those outside of the club.

“I have the feeling the players feel it and the fans do,” Eriksen said at a news conference Wednesday. “I even think you guys (reporters) believe it a bit. I think you can see the development in the games of how we play, there’s a bit of a rising.

“I think we’re starting to believe it. Obviously there’s a lot of things that we need to do better, things we can change, but I think overall we’re on the right path.”

United fans, though, have witnessed several false dawns since the retirement of legendary manager Alex Ferguson.

Former managers Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all had periods of success as part of their own reboots – but the club has not won a major trophy since 2017 and has had to watch as fierce rivals City and Liverpool have dominated English soccer in that time.

The gulf between City and United was brutally exposed at the start of the month when Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both scored hat tricks as the reigning champions humbled Ten Hag in a crushing derby win.

“I think they’ve played together for many years, had the consistency for many years,” Eriksen said of City. “A lot of new guys have come in (to United). It’s up to us to show that consistency to be out there, stay out there and not get many downs. We need to show our consistency before we can compare.”

Despite some heavy defeats, Ten Hag’s philosophy is clear.

There is more of an emphasis on swift passing and attacking soccer. United is dominating opponents more with a high-pressing approach, while signings like Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez, Antony and Casemiro have all had an impact.

It has been a remarkable turnaround since losing the first two games of the season — at home to Brighton and then the embarrassment at Brentford that sparked concerns about a crisis.

A run of four straight wins after that eased the pressure on Ten Hag.

“I think we — the players and in general — started believing what we are doing on the pitch and a lot of the 1-0 wins gave us confidence that we could do well and get momentum,” Eriksen said. “That started to build up after the Brentford game. I do think there’s a bit of belief. He wants us to do stuff and we try to do what he wants, but on the pitch we have to make our own decisions. I think the qualities we have when, finally, we get to know the base, will be even better.”

Eriksen, who suffered cardiac arrest on the pitch while playing for Denmark at last year’s European Championship, has started all but three of United’s 15 games in all competitions this season and came on as a substitute in another two.

Asked about his fitness, after a recent bout of sickness, he was quick to dismiss any concerns.

“Do I look sharp?” he asked rhetorically, later adding that he fully intended to be a pivotal figure under Ten Hag.

“I didn’t want to come here to sit on the bench. That was never my aim. I’ve never been like that as a footballer, to go somewhere and relax on the bench, so I did see my quality as a player.”

United fans are seeing that quality, too.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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