Erik ten Hag was pictured having dinner with Sir Alex Ferguson this week; manager says legendary former boss is a "massive" help; follow Manchester United vs Barcelona in our live blog on the Sky Sports website and app, plus keep across all the build-up and reaction on Sky Sports News
Thursday 23 February 2023 18:26, UK
Erik ten Hag says Sir Alex Ferguson has been a "massive" help to him since he arrived at Manchester United, adding the legendary former manager is keen to share his "knowledge and experience".
Ten Hag was pictured having dinner with Ferguson this week as he prepares his side for two of their most important games since he arrived at Old Trafford last summer.
United host Barcelona in the second leg of their Europa League knockout play-off tie on Thursday evening, having secured a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp, before facing Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Ferguson won 28 major trophies during a 27-year reign at Old Trafford as he established himself as one of the greatest managers of all time, and when asked how valuable being able to call on the 81-year-old is, Ten Hag said: "It's massive.
"I always enjoy speaking with people who have a lot of knowledge and experience, and he wants to share it. He wants to help and support.
"You feel Manchester United is his club. He feels so committed and wants us to do well.
"It was a great night and I'm looking forward to the next night with him."
Victory over Barcelona would mean United remain in contention to win four trophies this season, while success in the Carabao Cup final would secure their first silverware in six years.
"We all want to play big games," Ten Hag said. "When we were young, we dreamed of it and now we are in position.
"We really enjoy it and are really excited. We have to give our best if we want to match with the best."
Ten Hag has overseen an impressive revival at Old Trafford since moving from Ajax at the start of the season. The Dutchman took over a side that finished sixth - 35 points behind champions Manchester City - in the Premier League during a dispiriting campaign that began under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and ended with interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
But while Ten Hag now has guided United to third in the Premier League - just five points behind leaders Arsenal - he dismissed suggestions he and his team deserve more credit for their turnaround.
"It's not about credit, it's about trophies," he said. "Every day we want to give a better version of ourselves.
"When you face teams as big as Barcelona you have to play your best otherwise you don't have a chance. Tomorrow we have to give our best performance of the season. We believe it and are looking forward to it."
United are likely to be boosted by the return from injury of Antony for the game against Barcelona, while captain Harry Maguire is also expected to be available after a spell on the sidelines.
However, Ten Hag said the match will come too soon for Anthony Martial, who is yet to return to team training.
Raphael Varane knows more than most about what it takes to compete with Barcelona, having faced the Spanish giants 20 times during his spell with Real Madrid.
The centre-back said he has been encouraged by what he has seen from his team-mates in recent weeks and urged them to demonstrate their progress by eliminating Xavi's side on Thursday, saying: "I think in the last month we’ve grown a lot.
"We are playing with more confidence and tomorrow the atmosphere will be electric. We have to manage our emotions and stay calm and believe.
"I think we’ve improved a lot already as a team and the next stage is to beat teams like Barcelona. It’s a great challenge for us and a great opportunity."
Varane is now in his second season at Old Trafford and he says there are two key reasons for the team's significant improvement since his debut campaign under Solskjaer and Rangnick.
"First of all it’s confidence and secondly it’s discipline," explained the France international. "Tactically we are following exactly the rules and we know exactly how we want to play and manage the game.
"The quality is in the squad but we have a little bit more experience and winning mentality."
Follow Manchester United vs Barcelona on Thursday in our live blog on the Sky Sports website and app, plus keep across all the build-up and reaction on Sky Sports News.