Erik ten Hag keen to test Man Utd against ‘the best’ in derby clash with City

Erik ten Hag believes Saturday’s Manchester City derby will show whether the Manchester United side is ready to fight for top prizes again.

When the sides last faced each other in October, they beat United easily and lost 6-3 at Etihad, trailing 4-0 in the first half, but they have since lost just one of their 18 matches and have an eight-game winning streak in the game.

United’s win would put them one point behind City in the Premier League and add to the emphasis on their journey as they face league leaders Arsenal on 22 January.

Ten Hag said he is not interested in comparing his side to City, but recognizes the bar set by the reigning champions.

“Of course if you want to win trophies you have to compete with the best and Manchester City are the best so we look forward to challenging them,” he said. “We’ll see (if there’s a gap) tomorrow.”

Saturday will be the second game between Ten Hag and Guardiola, who was head of Bayern Munich when he coached the Ten Hag reserve team between 2013 and 2015.

Ten Hag said he didn’t have time to tell everything he had learned from Catalan during their time together, but the most important thing was clearer when asked.

“Being proactive,” he said. “Football is about results, but you want to do it a certain way. Being proactive, adventurous, but also entertaining. The best football is about entertaining the fans as much as it is about winning. You play football for the fans.”

United have won their last nine home matches in all competitions and have conceded only four home goals in the league all season – two of which lost to Brighton on the opening day.

That stingy defense was combined with a clinical attack where Marcus Rashford has scored seven goals in his last six games – but the English man could be forced into a role change on Saturday amid an injury suspicion over Anthony Martial.

Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford has been unstoppable in recent weeks (Tim Goode/PA)

Ten Hag criticized their side for not being brave enough after being humbled at the Etihad in early October, and they certainly reciprocated.

“What does it mean to be brave?” said the Ten Witches. “It’s a way of playing. While in possession of the ball, you offer each other options, scan for the right moments and situations, make the right decisions, go forward and defend whenever possible. Being forerunner and being aggressive.

“You act together as a team, but you always have the same ideas. That’s what it means to be brave.”

Suspicion of Martial-related injuries, which was due to check in on Saturday morning, could leave Ten Hag out of attack options, as the deal to bring Wout Weghorst from Burnley on loan was completed too late to be registered on Friday.

Ten Hag said United could still do more work in January, but because they’ve survived four competitions, he believes his team has the depth it needs.

“If we get this done with Wout – we’re close to finishing this – then we have an extra player and I’m really happy that he also has a player for the balance of the squad we need,” Weghorst said before joining.

Wout Weghorst

Erik ten Hag wants Wout Weghorst pictured to lead the line (Martin Rickett/PA)

“If there are more opportunities, we will be ready and we will look for him, but he has to be the right player.

“Some of the players are improving. Alejandro Garnacho is the best example of this, but you also see Kobbie Mainoo and Facundo Pellestri this week. We have some good talented players to fight for their minutes as well.

They have to deserve it and struggle in training, then we don’t hesitate to play with them. They need to show that they can contribute to the team and contribute to the lofty goals we have.”

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