Man United hasn’t learned how to close out games, Ten Hag says

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Blowing late leads has become a hallmark of Manchester United’s season.

Erik ten Hag hopes that changes when Liverpool comes to Old Trafford on Sunday. United is still clinging to hopes of a Champions League spot, despite a stunning 4-3 loss to Chelsea on Thursday night.

United first gave away the lead in the 10th minute of stoppage time at Stamford Bridge and then the game a minute later — both goals coming from Cole Palmer.

That followed a blown lead in a 1-1 draw at Brentford last Saturday. United had just recovered from celebrating Mason Mount’s goal in the 96th when Kristoffer Ajer tied it three minutes later.

“We can beat the best teams in the Premier League,” Ten Hag said. “When you beat them in the Premier League, you can do it across Europe, but we need to learn how you win games … how you bring games over the line and get the three points. We have to step up.”

Dropping five points in the past two games is “very expensive,” he added.

“Games are running out. We know that and we have to catch up and we are now many points behind,” Ten Hag said. “It will be difficult. We will keep fighting.”

With eight games remaining, United is nine points behind fifth-place Tottenham and 11 points back of fourth-place Aston Villa. Because of a format change to the Champions League next season, the Premier League might get a fifth spot in Europe’s elite club competition.

Blowing leads is not a new problem.

United exited the Champions League at the group stage — in last place. They gave away second-half leads in three of those games: a 3-2 home loss to Galatasaray; a 4-3 defeat at Copenhagen; and a 3-3 draw at Galatasaray.

The good news? United has actually closed out a big win recently — over Liverpool 4-3 after extra time in a thrilling FA Cup quarterfinal match. Marcus Rashford tied it at 3-3 before Amad Diallo’s winner at Old Trafford.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp pointed to uncharacteristic errors that they’ll need to avoid this time.

“We were really good that day but didn’t finish the situations off in extra time,” Klopp said. “We made mistakes we didn’t make before at all. We better play a really good football game to be honest, if we want something there.”

First-place Liverpool holds a two-point lead over Arsenal heading into the weekend.


AP soccer:

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