Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag insisted his side ‘like the challenge’ they face ahead of their final Europa League group stage match against Real Sociedad.
United travel to northern Spain this evening in a game they must win by two clear goals to top their group and face an easier knockout opponent.
Despite United having only lost once all campaign, their Spanish opponents have a 100% record and beat the Red Devils 1-0 at Old Trafford back in September.
At a press conference held yesterday, Ten Hag said: “It was six weeks ago or so and it’s a different team.
“Not all the players on the pitch (then) are with us.
“I think we’ve been growing in the last games, we develop, we make some good progress so we are confident.”
United have already qualified for the knockouts, but finishing second means they will play an extra round against a team that drop down from the Champions League.
With the calendar already congested enough ahead of the winter World Cup, Ten Hag stressed the importance of victory.
He said: “Obviously it’s important. We can win tomorrow night. We know what to do.
“We know it’s difficult to win games here.
“But we like the challenge and we know we have to win with two goals difference.
“So we have a plan for that and we’ll do everything to get that done.”
The recent form of serial winner Casemiro has caught the eye of many, and Ten Hag hailed the impact that he’s had on the team.
“I said it the other day. For me, he is the cement between the stones, in and out of possession.
“You see him growing from game to game and with that, also, our team is growing.
“So we are really happy with the progress but also we have to keep that process going because we are not satisfied.”
Cristiano Ronaldo is also expected to start on his return to Spain, and with so much speculation about his future, it’s no surprise that Ten Hag was asked about what he brings.
He said: “He’s an important part of this group.
“He’s a leader type and as you know in Spain, he’s a threat to every defence and you always have to keep an eye on him because of every gap he will use.”
It’s paramount that the Red Devils secure a return to the Champions League if Ten Hag’s first season is to be determined a success.
The winners of the Europa League gain automatic qualification, so the competition represents a great opportunity to lift silverware along the way.