Erik ten Hag said Manchester United must learn to bounce back during games when things go wrong after Sevilla beat them 3-0 and knocked them out of the Europa League.
United capitulated after losing eight minutes after Youssef En-Nesyri’s goal at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán on Thursday, with captain Harry Maguire’s mistake setting the tone for a miserable night in Andalucía.
It capped a regrettable collapse for Ten Hag’s side in the tie, having squandered a 2-0 lead late in the first leg at Old Trafford to go on the defensive ahead of the trip to Spain.
The loss in Seville was the fourth time in recent weeks that the team had struggled to deal with setbacks, following the first-leg surrender and Premier League losses to Newcastle and Liverpool, the latter thrashed 7- 0 at Anfield.
Ten Hag said he was impressed by his players’ ability to recover between games, but that means little if they can’t learn to recover on the spot.
“We have to recognize that it’s mental, definitely,” he said. “We have to learn that you continue, that you continue.
“What this team can do very well is recover between games. The least they do is bounce during a game, in a setback. That is what we have to improve.
“We have to do better, I know. I have to teach players to do better in such circumstances and on such occasions. That we deal better with expectations.
“The demands on this team because we are Man United are high. We have to deal with it. We have to improve it. So I have to teach the players, and the players have to step up.”
United will have the chance to answer their manager’s challenge when they face Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday.
It represents the team’s last chance to add to the Carabao Cup they won in February, after the prospect of a cup treble was extinguished by defeat in Spain.
Second-half goals from Loic Bade and a second from En-Nesyri ensured the team finished 5-2 on aggregate at the quarter-final stage, with Maguire and goalkeeper David de Gea in particular lacking goals in the night.
Ten Hag defended his skipper Maguire, saying that despite his costly mistake on En-Nesyri’s first goal and speculation linking him to a move, he remains a key leadership figure.
The manager reflected that the nature of life at United is to be constantly under pressure to prove yourself.
“Maguire has an important role to play,” Ten Hag said. “He is the captain, he leads, he communicates with the coach, he motivates the team. He is the example in the training field.
“We are always playing for our future, that is as professional players. Every game is a test, every season is a test. You have to earn the right to wear the jersey. That is also for me as a manager. We are in the same boat.
“I think that during the season we have made a lot of progress. But we still have a way to go. So we have to step up.
“The good thing is that Sunday is the next opportunity, and it is a great opportunity. It’s an FA Cup semi-final. A better event you can’t imagine.
“But after that, there are still a lot of great games out there. We have to prove it. This group of players has to show it”.