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Ten Hag claims United are ‘on the way up’ despite chastening defeat by City

Erik ten Hag has insisted Manchester United are “on the way up”, despite being outclassed by Manchester City at Old Trafford. On a chastening day for United, the manager claimed his team had performed “very well” and defended his unusual team selection.

Ten Hag chose Jonny Evans at centre‑back over Raphaël Varane and Victor Lindelöf at left-back in favour of Sergio Reguilón as part of a back four that was unable to cope with City. After the match he argued that his defenders had “played very well” in what was a fifth defeat in 10 Premier League games, leaving them in eighth position, eight points off the top four and 11 behind the leaders, Tottenham.

Shambolic Manchester United are nowhere near closing gap on CityRead more

Erling Haaland scored twice and set up a third for Phil Foden in a dominant victory for City against a United team unable to compete on their level. The first goal arrived from a penalty after Paul Tierney was sent to review a Rasmus Højlund foul on Rodri in which the striker held on to the Spaniard in the area, a decision on which Ten Hag refused to comment.

Haaland said he had used chants of “Keano” from United fans as motivation as he waited to take the spot‑kick. Roy Keane was sent off for an awful foul on Haaland’s father, Alf‑Inge, in a Manchester derby at Old Trafford in 2001. The striker told BBC Sport: “There were so many people singing ‘Keano’, I don’t know why, but I used it as motivation and gave them a good celebration.”

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Ten Hag said: “When you see the first half it is toe-to-toe and just the penalty changes the game, but even then we could have returned in the game with the shot of Scott McTominay just before half-time. For chances it was very toe-to-toe and also in the previous games against them in the FA Cup final and January it was very close. So the probability that we could win was there in all the games.”

United beat City at Old Trafford last season but lost the Cup final 2-1. “If you see all three games we played very well against them,” said Ten Hag, who pointed to wrong choices made by his players to allow City their second goal here.

It was a third home league defeat of the season for United who, in their six games at Old Trafford, have led for only 29 minutes. “The three games before we won, and the spirit is very good, so I think we are on the way up,” Ten Hag said. “The start was difficult but we are on the way up. I am sure when we have some injured players coming back then our side will be stronger. We have to be patient.”

After a scrappy first half, City took control and created a number of chances as they repeatedly opened up United. City had the lion’s share of possession and three times as many shots as their opponents.

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Haaland’s two goals mean he has scored as many in the league as the entire United side, although it was Bernardo Silva who was singled out for special praise by Pep Guardiola.

“He doesn’t wear earrings or have tattoos and has a normal car,” City’s manager said. “He is an incredible player for us. He loves to play at Old Trafford; I can’t remember a performance where he did not play good. Everybody loves him and he played another exceptional performance. He is one of the best players I have ever seen in my life. I was lucky to train a lot of top‑class players and he is one of them. He is one of the best for how intelligent, clever and how good a guy he is.”