Ten Hag warns League Cup final referee of 'annoying' Newcastle time-wasting
LONDON – If there is one thing that Erik ten Hag learnt from having dinner with Alex Ferguson last week, it is probably the mind games that the former Manchester United manager was most synonymous with.
On Friday, the Dutchman warned match officials to be wary of Newcastle’s “annoying” time-wasting tactics when his United side take on the Magpies in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.
The Red Devils are aiming to end their six-year wait for a title since they won the Europa League, against a club who last lifted a trophy back in 1969 when they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the predecessor to the Europa League).
Newcastle, who now have the backing of wealthy Saudi owners, have won plaudits for their rise to fifth place in the Premier League under English manager Eddie Howe.
But they have also been accused of deliberately slowing the game down in a concerted effort to frustrate their opponents.
“I think it’s a great team with a clear philosophy about how they want to play the game,” ten Hag said.
“The key word is intensity. They do really well. But they’re an annoying team to play against, they try to annoy you, so we have to find a way to win.”
The United boss’ remarks were reminiscent of the pre-match mind games used by his celebrated Old Trafford predecessor Ferguson, whom he was pictured having dinner with on Tuesday evening.
And ten Hag made sure David Coote, the referee for Sunday’s showpiece match, got the message loud and clear.
When asked if his “annoying” remark was a reference to Newcastle’s slow play, he explained: “The referees want to play effective time (meaning the ball is in play). Newcastle have the lowest in the league and they are quite successful with it.
“So it’s up to us that we get speed in the game but also we are then dependent on the refereeing as well.”
Statistics compiled by data group Opta show that the ball has been in play for just 51min 47sec on average in Newcastle’s Premier League games this season, the second-lowest after Leeds (51min 5sec).
Opta also said the effective time was only 53.4 per cent of the match when United were held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle at Old Trafford in October.
Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope has been accused of playing his part in slowing the game down but he is suspended for Sunday’s game as a result of a straight red card for handball against Liverpool last weekend.
United travel to Wembley boosted by Thursday’s 2-1 comeback win at home to Barcelona that completed a 4-3 aggregate Europa League success against the Spanish giants.
But they could be without the in-form Marcus Rashford, who was substituted in the 88th minute at Old Trafford because of injury.
The forward, 25, hinted on Instagram he may not be fit, posting an image of himself walking down the touchline looking in discomfort accompanied with a bandage emoji.
Asked if Rashford – who has scored a career-best 24 goals this season – could feature at Wembley, ten Hag said that more tests are needed to examine the severity of the injury.
“I don’t know, we have to do investigations, medical of course we did straight after the game, but most of the time you have to wait for a 100 per cent diagnosis,” he said.
“So let’s do the medical, the work, we have to wait.”
Rashford’s injury did not look serious initially, as he returned to the bench after being substituted instead of going straight to the dressing room for treatment.
He was also seen walking without too much trouble out of Old Trafford after the match.
Ten Hag could be playing mind games again when he did not give a definite answer, to keep Newcastle guessing if United’s star player will be fit on Sunday.
The United manager also confirmed French forward Anthony Martial remains out injured. - AFP, REUTERS