"Strict lines is what the club asked me because there was no good culture before last season so to set good standards, that is what I did and it is my job to control the standards. It is never someone makes one mistake, it is a whole process before you come to a certain outcome about strict lines. There is a structure to cross lines so you have to be strong."
Erik ten Hag made the level of discipline and commitment he expects from his players very clear when quizzed on Jadon Sancho's exile from the squad in mid-September. The Manchester United manager's comments came just two weeks after Sancho was dropped for a huge away game against Arsenal, having apparently fallen short of the required standard on the training pitch.
Sancho didn't take kindly to being criticised in public, snapping back at Ten Hag in a now-deleted post on social media that saw him claim he's been unfairly made a "scapegoat". The 23-year-old winger, who completed a big-money move to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2021, has not played for United since, and it has been reported that Ten Hag won't welcome him back into the squad until he issues a face-to-face apology.
The Dutch tactician has been criticised by some for his treatment of Sancho, which has been perceived as "harsh", but he insisted he "would not do anything different" ahead of United's 2-1 Premier League win over Chelsea on Wednesday night. It's a tough stance that Ten Hag must stick to, despite the outside noise, if he wants to maintain full control of the dressing room.
United's performance against Chelsea was their best of what has been a largely miserable 2023-24 campaign. The players followed Ten Hag's high-pressing tactics to the letter, and would have won by a greater margin had they been a bit more clinical.
Throwing Sancho back into the mix after such a vital breakthrough would be a huge risk. It would be a different story if he were to swallow his pride, but for now, United need everyone pulling in the same direction in order to properly turn their season around.