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By Tamara Prenn For Mailonline and Pa Sport Staff
22:49 16 Mar 2023, updated 01:22 17 Mar 2023
- Ten Hag noted that Rashford’s current form says something ‘about the team’
- Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes had strong games and avoided bookings
- Youngster Pellistri is progressing well and encouraged heavily by his manager
Erik ten Hag highlighted Marcus Rashford’s focus and quality after the in-form forward once again proved the difference in Manchester United’s 1-0 Europa League victory against Real Betis.
The Red Devils went into their second-leg tie boasting a 4-1 lead gained at Old Trafford, but Ten Hag was unwilling for his team to rest on their laurels, fielding a team with only four changes to the starting XI that faced Southampton in the Premier League on Sunday.
Betis made life difficult for United during the first half at a bouncing Estadio Benito Villamarin, but the crowd grew quiet in the 55th minute when Rashford rifled home to break the deadlock.
The 25-year-old was re-energised in the second half after an unspecial start, but his 25-yard effort was his ‘reward’ for his white-hot current form, says his manager.
‘The team was creating some chances,’ Ten Hag said. ‘Rashy had some chances before and he missed some but he kept his belief, he kept trying, and got his reward.
‘All good strikers know that not every chance you will get a goal but at this level, you don’t create five or six chances in a game so one of the two has to be in.’
Rashford’s 25th United goal in major European competitions was his 19th in 24 matches since returning from the World Cup.
‘[His form] tells you something about the team’s performance,’ Ten Hag said. ‘It tells you something about him.
‘If he keeps the focus, and makes sure he has the energy, the way, and the way he has to play in that system and style, he will get in scoring positions and then it’s about him, he has the ability to finish.’
Ten Hag was delighted with how his side rose to the occasion in the second half, having expected trouble away despite the first-leg scoreline.
More satisfaction came with Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro avoiding bookings during their significant match contributions, as a yellow card would have ruled either player out of the first leg of their next European fixture.
The latter’s four-match domestic ban following his sending-off at Southampton made his starting role against Betis less surprising than Fernandes, who has played in all but three of United’s games this season.
‘He is very strong, very good recovery,’ Ten Hag said. ‘He is a very good athlete, he has so much energy, and he can play in so many roles.
‘Tactically he is brilliant, he can play in roles and we can benefit from him, we can overload areas, we can outplay opponents, we create good situations and create chances.
‘He is very important in the counter press, and pressing or transitions. He is a good example for the team,’ the Dutch manager admitted.
‘In recent weeks, he has been in brilliant form and he looks like he is getting better from game to game.’
Ten Hag also had praise for Facundo Pellistri, who made his first United start since joining the club from Penarol in October 2020.
‘I think he deserved to come in,’ Ten Hag said of the 21-year-old Uruguay international, who had only made six substitute appearances in United colours before Thursday evening’s game.
‘He had a good training performance, you see him progressing, getting stronger, good game against Leeds, against Betis.
‘To start is more difficult, we have seen that, but when the game goes on he came in and got belief, you see his abilities.
‘He had some good dribbles, good runs in behind, and some good crosses, defending he did his job, so I am pretty pleased with his performance.
‘For him it is a step up. Now it’s up to him, to get rhythm and contribute to the team.’