Erik ten Hag wants Man Utd’s best performance of season against Barcelona
Erik ten Hag picked the brain of Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of the huge Europa League clash against Barcelona, when the Manchester United boss believes his team need to produce their best performance of the season.
A week on from the chaotic 2-2 draw in Catalunya, the European heavyweights go toe-to-toe in the return leg of the knockout round play-off at a packed, rocking Old Trafford on Thursday evening.
Ten Hag’s fingerprints were clear in United’s display at the Nou Camp, where the meticulous Dutchman bemoaned some of the officiating and his side’s lack of cutting edge immediately afterwards.
It was a mightily impressive performance but he knows even more is needed to eliminated Barca before attention turns to Sunday’s shot at Carabao Cup glory against Newcastle.
“It’s not about credit, it’s about trophies,” Ten Hag said of the progress his side have made since he took over at a low ebb in the summer.
“We have the opportunity (on Sunday) but the first focus point is always the next game and in that league we can’t win the (Europa League) trophy this week.
“We have to go from game and game with the focus, but especially we have to keep in the same mindset that every day we want to give a better version of ourselves.
“We are sure when you face such big teams as Barcelona you have to play your best otherwise you don’t have a chance.
“We want to get through, to go to the next round, so, really, tomorrow, really, we have to give the best performance from this season.
“We believe in it, we’re looking forward to it, so it gives a lot of energy.”
Ten Hag’s improving side are the only team still fighting on four fronts, with a first Premier League title since Ferguson retired in 2013 still possible given they only trail leaders Arsenal by five points.
Robin van Persie was a key member of United’s last title-winning side and was an interested observer at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference.
The former Netherlands international was at Carrington to interview Ten Hag, who was pictured ahead of the game having dinner with United great Ferguson in Wilmslow.
“It’s massive,” the Dutchman said of the opportunity to spend time with Ferguson. “I always enjoy to speak with people who have a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience.
“He wants to share it, so he wants to help, he wants to support.
“You feel Manchester United is his club. He feels so committed and he wants that we are doing well.
“It was a great night and I look forward to the next night with him.”
Ferguson led United out against Barca in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals and is sure to be in attendance at Thursday’s massive meeting in Europe’s second competition.
It promises to be a mammoth occasion and Ten Hag animatedly urged the Old Trafford faithful to make themselves heard as he headed towards the tunnel after Sunday’s win against Leicester.
“I’m not the type who is looking back,” the Dutchman said. “I am looking forward, so I’m really, totally excited about tomorrow.
“Two, big great teams facing each other at Old Trafford. It will be a massive atmosphere, a great ambience. I think it’s the best you can get.”
Barcelona will be without talented midfielders Pedri and Gavi following the first leg, whereas Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer are available having been suspended for the first leg in Spain.
Scott McTominay was absent through injury but returned to the squad on Sunday, while there is further good news on the fitness of winger Antony and captain Harry Maguire.
Antony has not played since the 2-1 win against Crystal Palace on February 4, while the United skipper watched from the stands against former club Leicester due to a minor knock.
“We still have the training to go but I expect Harry Maguire and Antony dos Santos available,” Ten Hag said.
“Anthony Martial is not available. He’s back, back on the pitch, not back in the team training so we wait for that.”