Erik ten Hag was delighted with the character and quality of his players against Real Betis as Manchester United recovered from their seven goals against Liverpool with a win in the Europa League.
Just a week after ending the club’s six-year wait for silverware by lifting the Carabao Cup, another historic afternoon dawned for the Red Devils as they lost Anfield 7-0.
Sunday’s defeat equaled United’s heaviest ever defeat and Ten Hag stuck with the same starting line-up that Liverpool lost as they attempted to bounce back in the Europa League against Betis.
Marcus Rashford’s early opener was canceled out by a stunning strike from Ayoze Perez, but second-half goals from Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst secured a 4–1 first-leg win in the last 16.
“Absolutely (the reaction I wanted)”, said Ten Hag. “We said to reset and bounce back and I think we played a pretty good first half.
“I think we should have been leading 3-0, but then we make a mistake.
“Then you go into the break 1-1, but we bounce back in the second half and I think it was a really good performance in the second half.
“It’s not about ignoring (Liverpool’s defeat). We make mistakes and we’ve been hammered for that because we didn’t control the standards we have.
“We showed complacency and you can never do that in top football.”
When asked if he named an unchanged squad to give his players a chance to redeem themselves, Ten Hag said: “Actually yes, but I also thought it was the best line-up when I saw Betis.
“But we also played 23 games in a row with one defeat and the 24th a huge defeat. But you can’t ignore all 22 games in which this team played tremendously well.”
Ten Hag admits he was “curious” to know how the Old Trafford faithful would react four days after Liverpool’s loss, but he was “pleased with the crowd’s reaction to the team”.
The United fans lined up behind their players as Weghorst’s first home goal was cheered to the rafters under fire after skipper Fernandes’ name echoed across the ground after his header.
“I think he was the best player on the field and that shows his personality,” Ten Hag said of Fernandes.
“He played a little deeper role tonight, I asked him to do it, and I think he did it brilliantly.
“He was the leader by making the game in possession from the back, making the rhythm of the game, a lot of good passes between the lines and from there we created a lot of chances.”
Asked about the Fernandes challenge on Betis goalkeeper Claudio Bravo that netted him a yellow card, the United boss added: “It’s his strength and his passion, but you’re right, sometimes he has to control that.
“He has to show that it is his strength and not if it is too much it becomes a weakness.
“That’s true and he knows it, but there are always small margins.”
Betis boss Manuel Pellegrini admitted United were “very much superior” towards the end of the game and could have finished with more.
“I don’t think a knockout game is ever over in football,” said the former Manchester City manager.
“We still have 90 minutes to play at home and we have to start from minute one to see if we can turn the game around. I don’t think it will be easy to take on a tough team like Manchester United. to attempt.”