Ten Hag promises United will 'give our best' in Europa League showdown with Barca

Premier League side host Catalans at Old Trafford on Thursday after 2-2 draw in knockout stage playoff first leg

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Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said he knows what needs to be done to maintain intensity for the blockbuster Europa League clash with Barcelona on Thursday.

United and Barca played one of the most dramatic matches of the season in the first leg of their knockout stage playoff last week where Marcus Rashford lit up Camp Nou in a 2-2 draw.

Though both teams are used to competing at Europe's top level - the Champions League - they still put their best foot forward in the competition that sits one level below.

The highly-anticipated match lived up to its billing as Rashford scored his 22nd goal of the season and fizzed in the cross that Jules Kounde turned into his own goal as United responded well to Marcos Alonso’s 50th-minute opener for Barcelona.

However, Raphinha’s cross found its way into the net to set up a sizzling return fixture at Old Trafford on Thursday.

While keeping his cards close to his chest, Ten Hag insisted he has an “idea” that will help his team prevail.

“What we do different you will see tomorrow on the pitch,” Ten Hag said.

“We have an idea. We all want to play big games, big matches. When we were young, we dreamt of it. We are really enjoying it, we are really looking forward and enjoying it. We have to give our best.

Barca 2-2 Manchester United ratings

“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 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 explained the changes that have sparked a turnaround.

“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.”

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 Sir Alex 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.

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.

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.

Updated: February 22, 2023, 2:17 PM