Erik ten Hag believes Jadon Sancho can be a match-winner for Manchester United after the forward returned during the 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final second leg win over Nottingham Forest that sets up a Wembley showdown with Newcastle later this month.
The forward entered on 63 minutes and impressed after three months out due to physical and mental wellbeing issues, his last action having been away at Chelsea in October. After training with specialist coaches in the Netherlands, Sancho has spent the last fortnight back with United’s squad.
Ten Hag was asked if he can be a decisive player for United. “He already showed that, this season for instance the game against Liverpool it was a great goal [in August’s win], he scored against Leicester [the winner in September],” said the manager. “He had some really good games, Spurs as well [in October], so he already showed his great capabilities.
“He has really high standards, he has great capabilities to contribute to our team and the team is improving, we are playing more in the opponent’s half and his capabilities are coming more to the fore [then]. He can act on them more and have more touches on the ball and that gives him the best platform to perform.”
Ten Hag believes Sancho is content again. “It is always important that players enjoy football because that gives energy and also the motivation to act and to perform,” said the Dutchman. “The reception from the fans to him was great and that will give him even more a push to continue in the way he is now acting. He has just started again, he is back in Carrington, and hopefully he can keep that and really contribute to the team because when he is in form he is important to us.”
If United defeat Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on 26 February they will end a six-year trophy drought. Ten Hag said: “It is good to reach the final, of course, but it is not about reaching the final, it is about winning it, it is going to be tough, we have a great opponent.”
United host Barcelona in the Europa League last-32 second leg less than three days before playing Eddie Howe’s team but Ten Hag is not concerned.
“We are aware of it but I handle this before when I have to play a cup game after we play in Europe with Ajax so I know how to deal with it. Newcastle have an advantage but it is about attitude and mentality.”
Ten Hag signed the attacking midfielder Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich on loan on transfer deadline day. “We are really happy with that transfer because we need it after Donny van de Beek dropped out [for rest of the season] and now Christian Eriksen for a long time [up to early May] and also for a short time also Scott McTominay is not available,” he said. “So that gives us a shortage of midfield players and I know the player already from [former clubs] Salzburg and especially Leipzig. Great attitude and the right age: I am sure it [this move] will motivate him strongly.”