MANCHESTER, England: While keeping his cards close to his chest, Manchester United coach Erik ten Hag insisted he has an “idea” that will help his team get the better of Barcelona in their blockbuster clash in the Europa League on Thursday (Feb 23).
United and Barca, two of the most successful sides in world football, put on quite the show in the first leg of their knockout stage playoff last week, despite playing in a competition neither are normally found in.
The 2-2 draw was exhilarating, typifying how much both teams have improved under their respective managers. Ten Hag is not resting on his laurels and is relishing keeping United competing for four trophies, with a League Cup final to come on Sunday.
“What we do different you will see tomorrow on the pitch,” Ten Hag told a news conference on Wednesday. “We have an idea.
“We all want to play big games, big matches. When we were young, we dreamed of it. We are really enjoying it, we are really looking forward and enjoying it. We have to give our best.
“It is not about (us getting) credit, it is about trophies. The next focus is always on the next game. We have to keep in the same mindset that every day we want to give a better version of ourselves.”
United finished with their lowest ever Premier League points tally last season (58) and have not won a trophy since 2017, but Ten Hag has quickly restored hope, with the 20-time top flight champions just five points behind league leaders Arsenal.
Speaking at the same news conference, defender Raphael Varane, who was part of United’s faltering side last season, explained the changes that have been made this time around.
“I think first of all it is the confidence,” Varane said. “Secondly, it is discipline. Tactically we know exactly how we want to play, to manage the game.
“With a little bit more experience and the mentality of competition we have already improved a lot, and that is maybe the difference.”
Ten Hag also added that captain Harry Maguire and Brazilian forward Antony have returned to fitness and could feature against Barca, but French striker Anthony Martial is still out.