Ten Hag hails Man Utd quartet who ‘don’t fear anyone’ after monumental win over Barcelona in Europa League
Erik ten Hag praised the personality of several members of his Manchester United squad after they eliminated Barcelona from the Europa League in the knockout play-off round.
The tie was level ahead of the second leg after the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou one week earlier. Just like in that fixture, Man Utd went behind first upon their reunion at Old Trafford. Bruno Fernandes gave away a penalty by pulling down Alejandro Balde, before Robert Lewandowski converted from the spot.
Barcelona deserved their lead at that stage. However, again like the first leg, the next two goals went United’s way.
First, Fred equalised early in the second half – admittedly not with the cleanest of finishes, not that he will have minded – after being set up by Fernandes.
Then, Man Utd took the lead when Antony made it 2-1 in the 73rd minute. Alejandro Garnacho and Fred had seen efforts blocked before it fell to the half-time substitute, who finished accurately to the far bottom corner.
And the crucial difference to the first leg was that there was no Barcelona equaliser this time. Indeed, Antony’s goal turned out to be the winner, sealing United’s place in the round of 16 at the expense of one of the biggest other clubs in the competition.
Speaking after the match, Ten Hag told BT Sport how his players persevered – leading to what he agreed was his biggest win as manager.
“Yes, we’ve had some good wins, Liverpool and Arsenal but I think this over two legs – Barcelona are La Liga leaders – to beat them it’s a big win,” Ten Hag said.
“For a European cup second leg I think it was flat on both sides, no chances. One team has to go in the lead, we had big chances with Bruno at the start of the game.”
Ten Hag’s substitutes made an impact, with Antony getting the winner after coming on at half time and Garnacho also making himself useful after his introduction midway through the second half.
Utilising their threat out wide was part of Ten Hag’s strategy. Indeed, the Dutch tactician pointed out how fearless the pair of wingers are, which must have been helpful against a club of Barcelona’s calibre.
Ten Hag added: “One part of our game plan is that we can bring Antony and Garnacho and open the wide areas you can get speed and running in behind and dribbles.
“They are both so brave. They don’t fear anyone, they just take players on and I think that gives a boost to the whole team.”
Defenders also epitomise Man Utd personality, per Ten Hag
As well as the two wide players, Ten Hag echoed similar praise for centre-back partners Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez.
Ten Hag continued: “I think we have some great personalities in the team like Rapha and Martinez; they don’t fear anyone.
“We have some players here with great personalities and if and when you get set-backs they move on. They carry on, they are resilient, they want to get a result.
“If you believe in that even after you’ve conceded a cheap penalty, you carry on. When you win a big game like this after being 1-0 down this is a good indication of the season.”
Man Utd will find out their opponents for the round of 16 on Friday, when the draw takes place at 11am UK time. Ten Hag’s side will be paired with one of the Europa League group winners, but they cannot meet fellow English outfit, Arsenal.
Whoever they cross paths with, Ten Hag is ready for Man Utd to believe in themselves again.
“Doesn’t matter for me; I’m focused on Newcastle now,” he replied, looking ahead to the Carabao Cup final. “Doesn’t matter who will come. We have to beat them all, we know that.
“We’ll respect every opponent but if we are well prepared and have strong belief we can do it.”
The next round will take place on March 9 and 16.
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