‘We can go toe to toe with them’: Erik ten Hag backs United to supplant City

<span>Looking up: Erik ten Hag believes he can deliver on Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s plan to knock their rivals ‘off their perch’.</span><span>Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images</span>
Looking up: Erik ten Hag believes he can deliver on Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s plan to knock their rivals ‘off their perch’.Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Erik ten Hag wants to topple Manchester City and turn Manchester United into the Premier League’s best once again. The Dutchman takes his side to the Etihad on Sunday 15 points behind their neighbours but believes United have the quality to be champions.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the club’s new minority owner, says his ambition is to knock City “off their perch” in the next three years but United have a lot of catching up to do. “We have to show ambition, we want to be the best. That is what United stands for,” Ten Hag said. “But at the same time, we know where we are now. We’ve also seen that there are moments where we go toe-to-toe, so that’s the belief we have as a team.

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“We have to pick up those moments and we have to prove it in every game and I think we’re able to with this squad we have, that we can go toe-to-toe with them. The short history shows that. I have a lot of respect for them, but not the respect that we think we can’t win this game. On the contrary, we will show we can win this game.”

City have won six league titles since United’s last in 2013, while Pep Guardiola says: “Liverpool have been my rivals.” Ten Hag conceded: “For the last decade that’s the way it went and [Guardiola’s words] are a fair assessment. But we can’t accept it. We have to bounce back, as Sir Jim says. We have to show ambition. We want to be the No 1 – and I think that’s a good ambition. Now we must have the strategies to get this done.”

One way United are trying to close the gap is by learning from City’s success. City’s chief football operations officer, Omar Berrada, will join United in the summer as chief executive, while they are keen to hire Jason Wilcox as technical director. The former Blackburn and England winger also worked at City and is now Southampton’s director of football.

“You can always learn from opponents who are successful and you have to do it if you want to go to higher levels,” Ten Hag said. “But at the same time we have to do it in the United way. This is a different club with a different environment, with a different DNA. And you pick up things that can be successful and you integrate it in your own model.”