By Ian Parker, PA
Manchester United’s strong run of form has seen the players earn Erik ten Hag’s full trust.
United made it nine wins in a row with Saturday’s come-from-behind 2-1 Premier League victory over derby rivals Manchester City and they will go for a perfect 10 when they travel to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.
That form has kept them alive in four competitions as they entered the Premier League title conversation by moving within a point of second-placed City with a fixture against table-topping Arsenal to come next week.
United’s transformation under Ten Hag got off to a slow start – they suffered back-to-back defeats against Brighton and Brentford to start the season – but the team now has his imprint all over it.
“The way they transferred the plan (against City) in the game, I think was brilliant,” Ten Hag said.
“You see how they are in possession… but also out of possession – the pressing, how we defended the front three of Manchester City I think was really good.
“I trust them. They were behind the plan fully 100 per cent and they controlled long periods of the game in the first half.”
Saturday’s late rally was reminiscent of United teams from days gone by.
Amazing noise at the Stretford End 💥 pic.twitter.com/T1Uby6cnIE
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) January 15, 2023
City were expected to see the game out after Jack Grealish headed them in front just before the hour, but United turned up the heat and after Bruno Fernandes’ controversial equaliser, they quickly moved in for the kill through Marcus Rashford.
Ten Hag’s side have not needed to come from behind much of late – they have only conceded three goals in their last seven and the derby was the only time in that period that they have trailed.
But they did twice come from behind to beat Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup in November and got a stoppage-time winner at Fulham three days later, and Ten Hag believes his players have recaptured the belief to keep playing to the end.
“Teams need experience to build that mentality, that belief that the game is only over when the ref whistles for the last time,” he said.
“To stay in the game you have to construct that and you need experiences like (the derby) to improve even more and push it even more to a higher level.”
Defence is 🔑
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 17, 2023
If there was a surprise on United’s teamsheet at the weekend it was Ten Hag’s decision to again start Luke Shaw at left-back, with Lisandro Martinez, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof all on the bench – although it has become common of late.
Shaw was among the players hauled off with United trailing 4-0 at Brentford back in August and he then missed time with a foot injury but, since coming back into the side, he has established himself as a key player for Ten Hag.
“I like that he is so honest,” the manager said. “After the second game he didn’t play, he said, ‘I fully understand my performance is not right’ but from the first day of training in pre-season he was working really hard. You see when he is in the right approach, he is a top player.
“Not only a team player but a leader and he showed a lot of leader capacity. With his skills, his physical power, he brings a lot to the team and now also his mentality is an example of how to win big games.
“I am really happy with his development, it is huge as a centre-half or left-back. He is a great player and great person for the dressing room.
“It is a big decision (to start him against City) but I think when you analyse the profile of (Erling) Haaland and analyse also the combination with (Kevin) De Bruyne, I think it is the right one.
“He has the physical power to compete, the tactical view to make the right decisions and the technical skill to play there.”