Erik ten Hag is embracing the pressure of Manchester United’s bid for Champions League qualification ahead of their Premier League meeting with Nottingham Forest.
United sit three points adrift of the top four with a game in hand ahead of the competition’s resumption, and are bidding for a fifth win in six home league games next time out.
While Ten Hag accepts the Red Devils are under pressure to claim a top-four place, he is embracing those expectations and relishing what is likely to be a fierce battle over the coming months.
“We are aware the competition is tough, but I think that counts for all the seven or eight clubs who are fighting for the top four,” Ten Hag said.
“For everyone who follows the Premier League, it’s great because there will be excitement there, you have to really battle in every duel to get your points.
“It’s a big pressure to get into the Champions League, that’s clear. You want to be in the top four and you want to fight for trophies and that’s our aim. That’s clear.”
If Forest are to cause a huge upset at Old Trafford, the attacking quality of former United man Jesse Lingard may prove crucial.
Boss Steve Cooper has urged the 30-year-old to play the game, rather than the occasion, on his first return to United.
“I hope we’re all motivated to go to Old Trafford and play well. Jesse was there a long time so it will be an important day for him,” he said.
“At the same time, he and everybody else need to focus on what we are in control of and that is the performance.
“Jesse has experience, he’s played on big occasions before and he’ll know that the best thing to do is to concentrate on the football. If he’s selected to play, that’s what he needs to do.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Manchester United – Anthony Martial
United have scored more goals from fast breaks than any other side in the Premier League this season (five), and with Cristiano Ronaldo a distant memory at Old Trafford, pacey forward Martial will be desperate to make an impact.
Nottingham Forest – Jesse Lingard
Lingard scored 20 goals in 149 Premier League appearances for United between 2014 and 2022 – this could be his first ever game against his former side in the competition. Could he return to haunt the Red Devils?
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Manchester United have won their last six meetings with Nottingham Forest in all competitions, with this their first game against them since an 8-1 win at the City Ground in February 1999.
– Nottingham Forest have lost four of their five Premier League away games against Manchester United, with the exception being a 2-1 win in December 1994 as a promoted side. That victory accounted for 50 per cent of the total goals United conceded at Old Trafford in the league that season.
– Manchester United have lost just six of their 89 Premier League home games against promoted sides (W68 D15) – against Nottingham Forest (December 1994), Derby County (April 1997), Middlesbrough (December 1998), Bolton Wanderers (October 2001), Norwich City (December 2015) and Cardiff City (May 2019).
– Nottingham Forest have won their final league game in just one of the last eight calendar years (D2 L5), beating Wigan Athletic 1-0 at home in their last match in 2019.
– With just two points and a goal difference of -18, Nottingham Forest have the worst away record in the Premier League so far this season. They’ve scored just once in their seven away games so far, with Brennan Johnson netting in a 1-1 draw at Everton.