Erling Haaland’s brace and a late tap-in for Phil Foden handed Manchester City a thoroughly deserved 3-0 win at Old Trafford, against an insipid and downbeat United side. After some promising moments in the first half an hour, Rasmus Hojlund’s mindless foul on Rodri in the box handed City a penalty, and the platform to dominate proceedings.
City thrived from that moment on and ended the game with 61 percent possession, 10 shots on target in what was a complete mismatch. Yet, Ten Hag said after the match that he took encouragement from his side’s start to the game.
“You see first half it is toe to toe and just the penalty changes the game,” opined the Dutchman. “But even then we could have returned in the game with the shot of Scott McTominay just before half-time.
“It was very toe to toe and also in the previous games against them in the FA Cup final and in January it was very close. So the probability we could have won was there in all the games.
“Of course it is disappointing, but last year we had many highlights," he added. "First half we had a very good gameplan and the execution was also very good. It was toe to toe in the first half and it was very similar, but then the penalty changed the moment. Then second half we chose to become more offensive and 2-0 is too quickly. From that point on it was a difficult game.”
But Sunday’ loss leaves United with five defeats from the opening 10 Premier League matches this season, and Ten Hag was challenged by a reporter about his relatively positive assessment of United’s performance and overall health.
“You ask that after today’s game against City, but the three games before we won and the spirit is very good,” he replied. “I think we are on the way up, the start was difficult but now we are on the way up. We have to be patient but I am happy with some injuries coming back and then our side will be stronger.”
Ten Hag also defended his decision to to start Jonny Evans at centre-back above Raphael Varane in the derby, claiming it was a selection made to prevent United from being forced to play repeated long balls.
“When you face City, they will go up to press and then to play with Rapha and Maguire over the left that can give problems and then you end up kicking long balls,” Ten Hag explained. “For me, he is better on the right, Harry, especially against teams who are pressing high. Second, you have to step in over that side, that was our tactic, to step in over [Julian] Alvarez and to get Sofyan higher on their press building up. That’s why."