News From Manchester: Erik ten Hag realism about Manchester United problems shows he knows the solution – Tyrone Marshall

Ten Hag kept his cards close to his chest in the Old Trafford press room. His most ambitious declaration was that Manchester City and Liverpool can be toppled before Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp let someone else have a go at winning the Premier League.

There is a realism to Ten Hag, however. He is aware of how the club have fallen but is paying little attention to what has happened in recent seasons.

The 52-year-old is unburdened by United's modern history and sees his arrival as a fresh start, but that doesn't mean he's unaware of the mood around the club and where ambitions lie at the moment.

The campaign that finished on Sunday was United's worst since the formation of the Premier League, collecting just 58 points from 38 games, with a goal difference of zero.

That is the reality of United's current situation and while Ten Hag tried to inject some belief back into the squad by talking about their runners-up finish in 2020/21, that was the exception to the norm.

United took advantage of Liverpool's desperate injury crisis and thrived in games played behind closed doors, in a training ground atmosphere. Only fantasists expected Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side to stay clear of Jurgen Klopp's this season.

It's impossible to argue against the idea that United are the sixth-best side in England at the moment and the route back to Manchester City and Liverpool is long and winding. City were 35 points ahead of United this season, so to reach those levels Ten Hag's team must win 12 more games than they managed this term.

So talk of imminent titles and putting a timeframe on a challenge would have been premature and unnecessary, especially when United faced such a demanding summer in the transfer market, with their budget constrained by being absent from the Champions League.

It wouldn't be a surprise if United finished sixth again in 2022/23. City and Liverpool look primed for another tussle. Chelsea face a takeover but have an excellent squad and a brilliant manager. Tottenham are making progress under Antonio Conte and could take significant strides after a full pre-season.

So Ten Hag's straight-talking realism will be valuable to United. His ambitions for his first season might not make a banner, but it would still constitute a successful campaign.

I said this is the project, to bring Man United back on top, but also we have to accept the current situation we are in. First of all, Man United belong in the Champions League, so that will be the first target,” he said.

Finishing fourth next season would be an achievement for Ten Hag. He restored Ajax to the pinnacle of Dutch football in his first full season at the club, but that is unrealistic at Old Trafford.

This is a long-term project and he is wise to put no timeframes on success. Asked how long he feels it will take to get United back on top and whether he will get the time he needs, Ten Hag said: I dont think about that in this moment.

“What were thinking is: This is a project and it takes time, but I also know at this club and at other clubs like Ajax and Bayern Munich that at the top there is never time but we want to win every game so we go from game to game and then we will see.

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