Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag stressed the need for mental strength and an “outstanding performance” against Southampton as they continue to try and get the Liverpool loss out of their system.
This has been a season of progress under the Dutchman, who is just the second manager in the Red Devils’ history to win a major trophy in his first campaign in charge.
But just a week after that Carabao Cup final win against Newcastle came a crushing 7-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool – the club’s joint heaviest loss of all time.
Ten Hag’s men bounced back with a 4-1 victory against Real Betis in Thursday’s Europa League tie and now return to Premier League action for the first time since the Anfield annihilation.
Asked if they again needed to show mental strength when struggling Southampton visit on Sunday, Ten Hag said: “Ah, definitely.
“We have seen two weeks ago Southampton beat Chelsea away, so we have to play an outstanding performance on Sunday to beat Southampton.
“At the bottom it’s very close, so they will be front foot, they will be aggressive, they will do everything they can do to collect points here.
“So, we have to be 100 per cent and give the best performance to beat them.”
United are, understandably, strong favourites with the bookmakers to win against relegation-threatened Saints, plus they have not lost a home Premier League game since the season opener against Brighton.
But Ten Hag expects more from his side and was annoyed by their slow start in their last Old Trafford league game at home to Leicester, when they survived a ragged first half before going on to win 3-0.
“I think games are good in the process and every game we are in the rhythm and we plan the game,” Ten Hag said of balancing long-term progress with a hectic schedule.
“We have a gameplan, we give them feedback and in the feedback there is often development points in the way of play.
“So, games are a very good tool to develop the way of play. Every game is an exam as a team and as an individual.”
After Southampton comes two further tests before the international break, with next weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final at home to Fulham following Thursday’s trip to Seville.
United boast a three-goal cushion heading into the return leg of their Europa League last-16 clash, meaning Ten Hag will surely be tempted to rotate a little.
Facundo Pellistri is among those hoping for minutes in Spain after impressing off the bench against the LaLiga side at Old Trafford.
“He is the example by deserving his position by performance on the training (ground),” Ten Hag said after the Uruguay international’s fifth appearance for the club.
“And I said the other day, I did not select him for Liverpool and it was not even totally justified because he was training that well.
“Now this was his moment to come on because of a longer period he performed in training. What impressed me was he came on and, straight (away), showed himself.
“When they came on, Scott (McTominay) and Pelli, it was 3-1 but 4-1 is huge, to make the extra goal. In the first moment, they did, which was brilliant.”