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Erik ten Hag’s focus is on team performance, not Mason Greenwood

LONDON – Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has insisted that his only focus is to improve his team’s performance amid the distraction of recent off-pitch issues, as the Red Devils prepare to host Nottingham Forest in the English Premier League on Saturday.

Pressed on Friday to speak about the club’s decision this week to arrange for forward Mason Greenwood – who has had charges of attempted rape dropped – to leave Old Trafford following an internal investigation, the Dutchman dodged the question and spoke about his squad’s injury issues instead.

“That is the situation, it’s normal, top football, you got to the limits, injuries coming up, always disappointing but you have to deal with it and construct a squad. And deal with it,” ten Hag said, after confirmation that new signing Mason Mount and first-choice left-back Luke Shaw will be out for an extended period of time.

“Look, we are not where we want to be with our team, I have a lot of work and a lot of focus on my team, I only have statements about our performance, our squad, where we have to improve because it’s clear, we have to improve. I have to put every effort in to get the team to perform.”

Hope that United can challenge for their first league title in 11 years has already dwindled after a sloppy 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend followed a woeful performance at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, despite escaping with a 1-0 win on that occasion.

Ten Hag’s men have suffered from a lack of cutting edge up front in the absence of new striker Rasmus Hojlund, who is still out with a back injury and has not made his debut.

Having no fully fit proper No. 9 – Anthony Martial has also yet to start a game this season – is a problem, but Mount’s injury may simplify things for the United boss.

Fitting captain Bruno Fernandes and Mount, a close-season signing from Chelsea, into the same midfield has proved problematic in the opening weeks of the season.

United lost just two of 25 games in which the trio of Fernandes, Christian Eriksen and Casemiro started in midfield last season, so ten Hag could revert to that line-up.

“Once again, what Manchester United fans expect is a winning Manchester United and I’m responsible for that and I have to put all my effort and all my focus and make us play better than we do now,” he added.

The 53-year-old also did not give any hint as to who will play at left-back, with Tyrell Malacia on the sidelines as well, and added he was not sure when Shaw will recover from his muscle injury.

“We can’t do that (put a timescale), they will be for some period absent where Luke will be longer than Mason,” he said, adding Hojlund is also not available for Saturday.

Backup goalkeeper Tom Heaton, forward Amad Diallo and promising midfielder Kobbie Mainoo are also out.

It remains to be seen how United will cope with their fresh injuries, but they would welcome a return to Old Trafford where they have not lost in the top flight since the opening day of last season to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Ten Hag’s men will also be confident against Forest, having beaten them in each of their last 10 encounters by an aggregate score of 36-3.

Forest, meanwhile, fought hard on the opening day of the season but suffered a 2-1 defeat by Arsenal. However, they bounced back last week with a victory by the same score at home against newly promoted Sheffield United.

Manager Steve Cooper believes that his side are the underdogs despite United’s poor form and issues, and warned his players to not let their guard down on Saturday.

“Manchester United have played some good football, and they are full of world-class players,” he said.

“They only need a moment or two to define a game, but we’re very much focusing on ourselves at the moment.”

Cooper also confirmed that centre-back Felipe is in the “final phases” of recovering from a knee injury, while right-back Ola Aina is a doubt following a groin issue. - AFP

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