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Martinez And Ten Hag Sum Up Why Manchester United's Barcelona Win Was Different

Eoin Harrington
By Eoin Harrington
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Something about Manchester United's dramatic fightback against Barcelona on Thursday night felt different.

We've been here before over the past ten years - those oft-written words "since Alex Ferguson's departure" fit nicely here. Though it's been a barren period, with only three trophies in a decade for the previously dominant United, they have had big wins in that time.

They've had wins in the league against their big rivals, they've won the odd semi-final or final, but Thursday night felt altogether different.

With Barcelona 1-0 up at half-time after Robert Lewandowski's penalty put them ahead, United faced the biggest 45 minutes of their season so far. They came firing out of the blocks, with Fred scoring an equaliser within two minutes, before his fellow Brazilian Antony scored his sixth of the season in style to seal a famous comeback win for United.

There was a confidence about this Manchester United team, a confidence that seems to have been building ever since August's spirited win against Liverpool sent the two sides in opposite directions.

After the game, manager Erik Ten Hag called the win his biggest yet at Manchester United, while Lisandro Martinez went on to explain what had changed in the dressing room at half-time. There is a sense from both men's comments that something is definitively changing at Old Trafford.

Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona

In March 2019, Manchester United pulled off a remarkable comeback against PSG in the Champions League round of 16, with a team dominated by academy prospects fighting back from a 2-0 first leg defeat to win 3-1 in Paris and progress on away goals in dramatic fashion.

Even though Thursday night's win against Barcelona came in the "secondary" European competition, it may be a more impressive and significant win than that PSG fightback of four years ago.

As said above, we've been here before. Manchester Unied reached the Europa League final in 2021, and were unlucky not to in 2020. They've taken big European wins against the likes of PSG, Juventus, AC Milan, and more in recent years. So what was it that made this win feel so different? Well, it's simple and can be boiled down to three words: Erik Ten Hag.


The Dutch manager has masterminded wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Spurs, and now Barcelona, in just his first season at the club, after a dreadful 2021-22 campaign had fans prepared for a a long and painful fight back to the top of the English game.

United remain in contention in all four competitions this year - though the Premier League is undoubtedly an unlikely prospect, this season at least. But Ten Hag's post match comments to BT Sport on Thursday exemplified what has changed at the club.


Last season, the biggest wins came in scrappy fashion against the likes of Atalanta and Villarreal in the Champions League group stage, with United clinging on at so many points throughout the first half of the season before their season fell apart completely under Ralf Rangnick.

Ten Hag explained what made the Barcelona win so special, saying that pulling off a win against the best team in Spain over two legs - especially after seeing what the second best team in Spain had done to Liverpool earlier in the week - made it the most satisfying of his reign so far:

We've had some good wins - Liverpool and Arsenal at home [for example]. But two legs, one tie, Barcelona as the leader of La Liga, eight points ahead of Real Madrid - and we all have seen Real Madrid in this week. I think if you beat them, it's big, yeah.

And it's hard to argue with Ten Hag. The Barcelona win feels a bigger statement than any Manchester United have had in the past five years, at least.

Under Jose Mourinho, United would take a spirited win away to Manchester City during a tricky period, before losing the following week at home to West Brom. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, every big win (bar those at the Etihad Stadium) was achieved in dramatic fashion, with the feeling that the team were just about holding on for dear life. United rarely, if ever, got results home and away against the same team in the same season.

In the past week, Manchester United have gone away to the best team in Spain and gotten a draw, before beating them at home fair and square. The fact that they had to come from behind in both games - and did so - only adds to the feeling that something is different here. This is no fluke, and has been backed up by wins against just about every other contender in England this season.



Defender Lisandro Martinez - one of the stars on Thursday night, and throughout this season for United - explained how the spirit of the dressing room at half-time had pushed them on to victory.

If I tell you what Ten Hag said [at half-time]...I can't say on camera! He challenged us, he challenged us because we didn't look like a team, and  what we've been doing in the first half - not with energy or fighting.

Manchester United look like a team again, and that is summed up by Lisandro Martinez's post-match comments, which show a fighting spirit has been reinstalled.

Players like Fred, who struggled in previous seasons, have been lifted by the arrival of Ten Hag, while the crowd at Old Trafford seemed louder than ever on Thursday night.

Is this a great Manchester United team? No. On paper, there are still holes, and players that need to be replaced. But the likes of Fred - who was outstanding against Barcelona - are an interesting example of what has changed. What made Manchester United so great in previous eras was the ability of players like Ji-Sung Park or Darren Fletcher to elevate their performance as part of a great team. If Ten Hag can continue that trend, perhaps something special will be building.

Manchester United are very unlikely to win the Premier League this season. It will take an enormous effort to win multiple trophies - the first opportunity comes on Sunday in the EFL Cup final against Newcastle. The fact that these are the conversations being had about Manchester United, rather than whether a top four finish is possible, shows how far Erik Ten Hag has brought them.

In previous seasons, this would be the exact point for a perfectly comically-timed 3-1 loss in the cup final. Sunday may well cement Manchester United on the path Erik Ten Hag seems to have sent them on.

SEE ALSO: Tony Cascarino Has Made A Big Claim About Virgil Van Dijk's Liverpool Future

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