Ten Hag meets Ferguson ahead of Man Utd v Barcelona clash

AFP , Wednesday 22 Feb 2023

Erik ten Hag picked the brains of Alex Ferguson ahead of Manchester United's Europa League clash against Barcelona on Thursday, admitting his side need to produce their best performance of the season to progress.

Manchester United s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag (L) speaks with Barcelona s Spanish coach Xavi during
Manchester United s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag (L) speaks with Barcelona s Spanish coach Xavi during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first-leg football match between FC Barcelona and Manchester United at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on February 16, 2023. AFP

The European heavyweights go toe to toe in the return leg of their play-off at a packed Old Trafford after a thrilling 2-2 draw last week, with the winner progressing to the last 16.

Three days later United face Newcastle in the League Cup final at Wembley as they seek to end a six-year trophy drought.

The Red Devils have made huge strides under new manager Ten Hag this season but the Dutchman said the litmus test of his team's progress was winning silverware.

"It's not about credit, it's about trophies," he told reporters on Wednesday. "We have the opportunity (on Sunday) but the first focus point is always the next game and in that league (Europa League) we can't win the trophy this week.

"We have to go from game to 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 we have to give the best performance from this season."

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.

The Dutchman was pictured ahead of the game having dinner with the former boss, who led United out against Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals, both of which they lost.

"It's massive," Ten Hag said of the opportunity to spend time with the Scot, who oversaw a period of unprecedented success at Old Trafford over more than two decades.

"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 us to do well."

Barcelona will be without midfielders Pedri and Gavi on Thursday, while Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer are available for United having been suspended for the first leg in Spain.

Scott McTominay was absent through injury but returned to the squad on Sunday, while winger Antony and captain Harry Maguire are expected to be available.

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