Erik ten Hag says Manchester United must use the pain of their narrow FA Cup final defeat to Manchester City to improve and eventually catch their dominant neighbours.
The eyes of the footballing world were on Wembley as these rivals went toe-to-toe in a major cup final for the first time on Saturday afternoon.
Ilkay Gundogan opened the scoring with a stunning volley after 12 seconds, with Bruno Fernandes’ penalty cancelling out the quickest goal in FA Cup final history.
But City regained the lead through another Gundogan volley to seal a 2-1 win, giving them a chance to emulate United’s 1999 treble heroes in next weekend’s Champions League final.
Many United fans had started the long, train strike-impacted journey home when their rivals lifted the trophy, but Ten Hag and his team watched those celebrations.
“First of all, show respect always,” the Dutchman said. “But, yeah, of course, it’s a motivation.
“You have to feel it in your stomach. This hurts and it has to be fuel.
“We want to be there and our team, my players, deserved it, but you have to grab it and that is the next step we have to make.”
It was a galling end to a promising first season under Ten Hag, who is proud to have overseen a third-placed finish, Carabao Cup win and narrow FA Cup final loss.
“I want to congratulate City for winning the FA Cup, but I think it was very narrow, it was head to head,” he said. “We played very competitive out of a very good organisation.
“We didn’t allow them out from open play against probably the best team in the world in this moment.
“We fought back after going a quick goal down and I think we are the only team in the world who is capable of fighting back against this team from City.
“So, yeah, I was happy with the performance of my team.”
David De Gea’s role has been debated all season and his part in City’s second goal has been called into question, leading Ten Hag to be asked whether he was comfortable having him going into next season.
“In this moment, I don’t want to talk about such issues, about criticism because we played all a great season, including David De Gea,” he said of the goalkeeper, who has yet to extend his contract beyond the summer.
“He played a fantastic season. If you consider that City and us before today both had 42 wins.
“Now they have one win more, so the difference was made today. Then you can tell we played a fantastic season and it’s more than we could have expected before.
“We were third in the league, we are qualified for the Champions League, and we won a trophy and we were in another final.
“So, yeah, I’m really happy with the performance from my team all over.”
Ten Hag bemoaned “soft goals” after a loss and season where the lack of quality and depth compared to treble-chasing City has been clear.
United have work to do in the summer but the interminable takeover process continues to hang over the club as the Glazer family drag the process out.
Co-owner Avram Glazer was at Wembley for the final and ignored questions about the takeover as he left through the interview area.
“I think in this moment I don’t want to discuss that,” Ten Hag said when asked about the takeover and summer improvements.
“It’s about finalising the season. We have to be quiet, analyse the season, go into the depth, then set the right conclusions and then take action. It’s about that.
“Of course, during the season you continually make your considerations and already some actions are into process.
“But, yeah, now the season is finished and the conclusion all over is we played a brilliant season.”
Asked if he has different plans for whether there is a takeover or not, Ten Hag said: “I have only one plan and that is to improve this club and to improve this team.
“I will fight for (that). I have my ideas and I already talked with the club about what we have to do for that.
“But also what I said, yeah, I have to work with my staff, with my players to be better in next season.”
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