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Manchester United booked their place in the Carabao Cup final earlier this month, but it’s this week’s clash against Barcelona that could determine whether Erik ten Hag’s debut season in charge at Old Trafford will be deemed a huge success or not. After several years of frustrations, disappointments and a lack of identity, United finally appear to be heading in the right direction under Ten Hag.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure has only seemed to strengthen the unity at Old Trafford with Ten Hag starting to get the best out of his squad. Summer arrival Lisandro Martinez has been heralded as one of the signings of the season while Marcus Rashford has been the most lethal forward in the Premier League in 2023.
Their 2-0 win over Leeds at the weekend saw them make up some ground on league leaders Arsenal, who dropped points against Brentford. The minimum goal for Ten Hag from the start of the season was to secure Champions League football for next year.
That target still needs to be met with plenty of teams still sniffing around the top-four spots heading into the business end of the season. But all current signs point to a successful first season in charge for Ten Hag – but there’s an opportunity to make it the club’s best campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
It’s been five trophy-barren seasons for United – their longest trophy drought in 40 years. Their last piece of silverware came under Jose Mourinho, who won the Europa League and Carabao Cup back in 2017.
United could end that drought later this month against Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final. But it’s this week’s Europa League knockout tie at home to Barcelona that could be Ten Hag’s biggest test.
Xavi’s side have been flying high at the top of La Liga and are on an 11-game winning streak. Knocking out one of the tournament favourites would immediately see United installed as serious contenders to go all the way and win the European competition for the second time.
They also stand a chance of going far in the FA Cup with a fifth-round tie against West Ham at the start of next month. Mourinho managed to get to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the year he led United to glory in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
And a Premier League title battle can’t be ruled out either with Arsenal going through a mini-blip while Manchester City have dropped points in recent weeks. But any hopes of a historic season may rest on the Europa League tie against Barcelona and Ten Hag will know what’s at stake.
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