All eyes will be on Old Trafford this Sunday afternoon as the Red Devils look for a statement victory in the derby against treble winners Manchester City.
United head into the match after toiling to a third straight victory in all competitions, with Andre Onana’s last-gasp spot-kick save sealing a 1-0 win against Copenhagen in the Champions League.
It was another narrow escape for Ten Hag’s so far underwhelming side, who need to be far better if they are to stand any chance of winning the 191st Manchester derby.
“We are in the right direction, and we have a way to go,” the United manager said.
“I see positives, I see also negatives. We are not consistently, in possession, on the level where we can be, where we show in games we can be.
“Like for instance, Arsenal away. Also, the first 30 minutes in Bayern Munich away. But we should do this on a consistent basis.
“But pressing, we are quite good. We have the most ball regains from the whole Premier League, we have the most middle regains from the whole Premier League.
“So, there you see, our defensive organisation, our pressing organisation. I said before the season how we wanted to play, that is us.
“But then, we don’t take the benefit in the attacking transition moments, and we should be because we have the abilities in our team, the players there who can take benefit from it.
“We paid some attention to it, and this has to grow, this has to progress. Then games will become easier.”
United have had a few factors to contend with this term, from injuries and off-field issues to tough fixtures and underperforming stars.
The afterglow of a promising first season under Ten Hag has certainly dimmed, with the side dropping off markedly after February’s Carabao Cup final triumph against Newcastle.
Liverpool favourite Carragher this week said United “resemble a team reaching the end of a cycle, not one still rebuilding under a relatively new manager”.
The former defender also said in his Telegraph column that “the football is stale and the symptoms of regression are visible” – comments that were put to Ten Hag ahead of the derby.
“I said in possession we have to do better,” the Dutchman said. “But there are reasons I don’t go into, but I think everyone is seeing why.
“But there are also facts, so I disagree. We are much better.
“And even we are top Premier League in high ball regains, we are top Premier League in middle ball regains.
“Our pressing is always very good, so that is not the truth what he is telling.”
United are certainly far from their best right now, with the stuttering performances coming under the continued cloud of questions over the ownership.
Sheikh Jassim recently withdrew from the interminable potential takeover process due to the Glazer family’s demands, with Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos now looking set to take a stake and sporting control.
Asked if United’s players are thinking about the impact on them of potential changes above, Ten Hag said: “I don’t think so.
“Of course, they are committed to the club but especially they are committed to this team.
“They want to be successful and are aware you need the team, your team-mates, you need cooperation.
“You want to play with the best players you have in this team and when the cooperation is growing, we will play better and that is in their benefit.
“I think that is how the players are thinking and they are not thinking about strategic reviews or structures or whatever.”