Erik ten Hag urges Alejandro Garnacho to start and meet ‘higher demands’

Erik ten Hag wants Alejandro Garnacho to start and challenge for a regular starting spot after the 18-year-old committed his long-term future to Manchester United.

The talented winger arrived at Old Trafford from Atletico Madrid in 2020, in the last wave of international signings before Brexit regulations changed.

Garnacho was named the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year last season after playing a key role in United’s FA Youth Cup triumph and made his first team in April.

The Argentina youth international did not feature on the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia after Ten Hag’s frustration, but the Dutchman has since signed a new contract until 2028.

“First of all, I think he has the prize and it is a prize,” said the United manager of Garnacho. “It also shows that he can make the final step – not just in talent but also, he did it.

“But now it’s a new beginning, a restart, because now the expectations will be higher, the demands will definitely be higher.

“He’s on his way, he’s a strong character and that’s why he’s at this level right now, and he’s done it on his own.

“But there is more work to do now because the demands are higher, we expect more from him.

“But it’s great that he did it because he says we will give opportunities to young players, but they have to earn it.

“When I say ‘give’, translate it to ‘earn’ and they have to earn it, they have to show it on the pitch and that means you have to invest a lot and earn it in training performances, three performance in people under 21, then wait a minute and create it again.

“For Alejandro, it’s a step beyond that but now the demands will be even greater because he has to compete for a starting XI position.

“So, every time is the same: you have to cross boundaries and every time you have to enter the next level.

“We join him in that challenge but the most important thing is that the player has to do it.”

Garnacho has been sidelined for the past seven weeks with an ankle injury picked up against Southampton – a problem which saw him miss out on a link-up with Argentina’s senior team in March.

But the teenager has made good progress and is nearing a return to action, although the trip to Brighton in the Premier League on Thursday will come too soon.

“We have one training session but I think it’s too early to be available,” said Ten Hag. “I think he’s short, I think he needs some training and then at short notice he’ll be available.”

Raphael Varane is also making good progress on his return to fitness.

The 30-year-old was injured in last month’s Europa League quarter-final first leg against Sevilla, when Lisandro Martinez suffered a season-ending metatarsal injury.

Varane will not be available at Brighton or West Ham on Sunday, but Ten Hag suggested he could return in United’s home game against Wolves on May 13.

“The prognosis, I think Rapha is closer than Scott McTominay at this moment,” said the United boss. “But still for the next two games, they are not available.”

United have the chance to strengthen their grip on a Champions League qualification place when they travel to the high-flying Seagulls on Thursday.

Brighton are the only away team to win at Old Trafford in the league this term but are reeling from their recent FA Cup semi-final penalty shootout loss to the Red Devils at Wembley.

“I think everyone involved in the sport, if you get beaten you want to get revenge and they usually have a huge motivation to beat us,” Ten Hag added.

“But we have to match that and not just match that – we have to do more.

“We have to show that we are more hungry than them to win this game and that we are willing – that’s the word (Thursday).”

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