Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has told his players that an appearance at Wembley will mean nothing unless they beat Newcastle in the EFL Cup final on February 26.
Second-half goals from Anthony Martial and Fred gave United a 5-0 aggregate win over Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford.
It confirmed United’s first domestic final appearance since 2018 and puts them one win away from ending their six-year wait for a trophy.
The game also saw the return of Jadon Sancho, a £73million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2021, after a three-month absence and a stark return from injury from Martial.
“It’s about winning it”
Ten Hag, who won the Dutch Cup (KNVB) once as a player with Twente and twice as a manager during his time at Ajax, guided Man Utd to fourth place in the Premier League and they are still in the FA Cup, Europa League and EFL Cup.
“It’s great but you play finals to win. It’s no feat to get into a final,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We want to win them but we have first other things to do We go back to the Prime Minister League and bury this cup.
“It’s good to reach the final but it’s not about reaching the final, it’s about winning it.
“Now the focus is on the Premier League, in two days it will continue. It has to give motivation in the first place, we want to bring this cup to the fans.
“But at the moment I’m not looking to the future, we are concentrating on other things, a big week is coming up, we have Crystal Palace and then two games against Leeds and they will be great games, games of derby that we are looking forward to.”
His words were echoed by England full-back Luke Shaw, who has returned to the starting line-up after recent illness.
“It’s hugely enjoyable, but there’s no point in going to the final if we don’t win it,” Shaw told Sky Sports.
Ten Hag also said he couldn’t think of Newcastle with six Premier League and Europa League fixtures between now and the final as his side continue their bid for a top-four spot.
However, the Dutchman noted that Eddie Howe’s side have one game a week until February and have an eight-day gap between their Premier League meeting with Liverpool at St James’ Park and the final – a rematch of the 1999 FA Cup final – while United will be less than three full days from their last decisive Europa League game with Barcelona.
“Obviously Newcastle have an advantage, but it’s a matter of attitude and mentality,” he said. “I’ve dealt with it before, playing a cup game after playing in Europe, when I was with Ajax, so I know how to deal with it.”
‘Sancho can get back to his best’
Jadon Sancho received a rousing welcome when he was introduced as a second-half substitute.
The 22-year-old hasn’t played since October 22, when Ten Hag opted to give him a break from the stressful United first-team environment, after detecting physical and mental issues he was experiencing. deemed necessary to resolve.
Even after returning from a training spell in the Netherlands under personal trainers, Ten Hag knows, Sancho had to be patient while waiting for his chance.
The enthusiastic reception he received from United fans both before his Antony presentation and after the final whistle, underlined how well they wanted him to do.
A warm embrace with Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper, who met Sancho face to face for the first time since winning the Under-17 World Cup with England in 2017, showed that good wishes go on. extend beyond Old Trafford.
“We talk quite often, but it was nice to see him,” Cooper said.
Former United assistant manager Rene Meulensteen told BBC Radio Five Live he thinks Ten Hag was right to take his time in bringing Sancho back into the fold.
“The best thing was to get him out of the line of fire to clear his head,” he said. “I firmly believe that where the spirit goes, the rest will follow.
“Now the club is more stable and his teammates can help him. He can relax, get back to his best and United fans will see what Sancho is.”
Ten Hag added: “I thought it was great that the fans gave him love. I think he enjoyed being back on the pitch.
“He’s been smiling for the past few weeks at Carrington. Hopefully he can continue that process and of course he has a huge contribution to the season.”
“A special match to come”
Former Scotland striker James McFadden on BBC Radio 5 Live: McFadden:
I know people have said in recent years that the Coupe de la Ligue is not a big cup but for both teams and the progress they are trying to make it is a huge trophy to get your hands on. It emphasizes the message that the two managers are trying to get across, where they want to be.
You have to start somewhere, you’re not going to win league titles straight away, so they have to give that feeling of victory to the players, around the club, get that feel-good factor and what better way to start.
I think the game is going to be a special game. They are two teams that want to go and play football, they have exciting attackers, really well balanced teams. I do a 50/50.