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Erik ten Hag pins hopes on new rule in Manchester United's bid to qualify for Champions League

Erik ten Hag pins hopes on new rule in Manchester United's bid to qualify for Champions League

Falling 11 points behind fourth place should not be terminal for Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, according to Erik ten Hag.

United lost Sunday’s Manchester derby 3-1 to Manchester City after failing to protect Marcus Rashford’s early goal. Phil Foden scored twice in the second half before Erling Haaland’s late strike.

The result left the Red Devils sixth and 11 points behind Aston Villa, who hold fourth spot, with just 11 games to go while Tottenham are six clear and have a game in hand.

Ten Hag is not giving up hope of qualifying for the Champions League however, with the hope that his team can still climb up the table and benefit from a new rule ahead of the competition’s revamp next season.

“This year we are really progressing and you have to get some points back,” he told Sky Sports post-match.

“Everyone can beat everyone and things can quickly turn around.

“Number five [in the league] can also be a position for Champions League, so we have to fight for it.”

With the expansion of the Champions League to 36 teams, the two countries with the highest average coefficient score will earn an extra place in the competition - in England’s case, via fifth place in the division.

Currently, Italy and Germany hold those spots with England third, but four of the last five years have seen Premier League clubs collectively earn a place inside the top two coefficient scores.

The final verdict on whether fifth place will be enough will not be decided until the end of the season, which could make for a nervous wait should United climb up the table.

Ten Hag’s side only managed one shot on target as they looked to grind out a result at Etihad Stadium but the Dutchman felt his side were hard done by when Foden’s second goal came shortly after a potential foul.

Kyle Walker laid a hand on Rashford as the striker lost the ball, leading to furious protests from Ten Hag which earned him a yellow card. However, he admitted that a free-kick to chalk the goal off would have been “soft”.

“Let's say this: it is very debatable,” he summarised.

“There was contact [on Rashford] and it's a defining moment in the game.”

Ten Hag added: “It was soft [if the foul had been given], but when you are in a full sprint you lose your rhythm that’s why he went down.”