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Erik ten Hag deployed a bizarre phrase to outline his belief in Manchester United’s top-four ambitions ahead of a tough test at Newcastle on Saturday evening.
The Dutch manager has overseen a three-match winning run in the Premier League after losing the Manchester derby 3-0 at Old Trafford in October, but the Red Devils have looked inconsistent against Copenhagen and Galatasaray that have all but extinguished their hopes in the Champions League.
Man United last met the Magpies in the last-16 of their Carabao Cup defence, and were taken to task by Eddie Howe’s side, dumped out of the tournament by last year’s runner-up in a 3-0 home defeat.
But the manager remained positive about his team’s chances ahead of an undoubtedly hostile trip to the cauldron of St James’ Park, sharing his belief that despite an uneven season, United were still in contention at the top of the table.
United currently sit sixth ahead of Saturday’s pushed-back 8pm kick-off.
Erik ten Hag said that his side were ‘smelling the top four’ from their sixth-place positioning
The Red Devils will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Galatasaray
In their midweek European action, Newcastle missed out late on a famous victory at PSG
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‘We have experienced (tough atmospheres) in the last two weeks with Copenhagen, Everton and Galatasaray,’ Ten Hag told his club’s website with regard to the piping-hot St James’ Park atmosphere. ‘We are looking forward again, because that’s the best thing about football that you have such experiences and such challenges.
‘That energises you as an individual and a team. We will be ready for that game.
‘We have to play our best to get the points there. Of course, that’s the objective and we are in a great position.
‘We are smelling the top four. We have to get there and (to do that) you have to win big games.’
Victory on Tyneside could see Man United improve their place in a standings and overleap Tottenham.
The north London side are two points ahead of the Manchester club in fifth, but face a challenge on Sunday afternoon in their meeting with Man City.
But Ten Hag said that such a climb back into the Champions League places might not be ‘easy’, but that he was sure that his side had the appropriate mentality.
Eddie Howe said his side feel as if ‘the world is against them’ after VAR disappointment in Paris
Man United are without a number of players, with Mason Mount the latest to be ruled out
‘We know they’re going to be highly motivated against us,’ the former Ajax man continued. ‘We have to match that, not only match that but do even more.’
Newcastle are muddling through an injury crisis with uncertain results – defeat at Bournemouth gave way to a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea last weekend.
Ten Hag warned his side not to be complacent in the face of the Magpies’ numerous key absences, adding: ‘injuries or not, it will not change their approach.
‘Newcastle are a very good team and they have a very good mentality.’