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Raphael Varane says Erik ten Hag has brought confidence and discipline to a Manchester United side seeking to take the next step in their development by beating Barcelona.
The 2018 World Cup winner joined the Old Trafford giants in the summer of 2021 alongside Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the campaign that followed was one to forget for all connected to the club.
United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and floundered under caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick as they stumbled home sixth in the Premier League – a wretched situation that Ten Hag has rapidly turned around.
The former Ajax boss has improved the culture and quality at Old Trafford, meaning the club are still fighting on all four fronts as they prepare to host Barca in the Europa League knockout play-off on Thursday.
“I think in the last month we grow a lot,” Varane said. “We are playing with more confidence and tomorrow the atmosphere will be electric, so we have to manage our emotions and stay calm and believe.
“I think we improved a lot already as a team and the next step is to beat teams like Barcelona. It’s a great, great challenge for us and a great opportunity.”
Asked about the difference between this season and last campaign, Varane said: “I think first of all it’s the confidence and secondly I think it’s the discipline.
“I think tactically we are following exactly the rules and we know exactly how we want to play, how we want to manage the game.
“The quality is in the squad and I think with a little bit more experience and mentality of competition and winning mentality we already improved a lot.
“That is maybe the difference between this season and the last season.”
United’s confidence was clear last Thursday at the Nou Camp, where Ten Hag’s men impressed in a 2-2 draw that could easily have been a victory.
“I think the first game against Barcelona was a very good game, top level – two offensive teams who want to press high on the pitch,” former Real Madrid defender Varane said of the first leg.
“The level was very good and it was a good result for us. Obviously in the first half we could maybe score more goals but in general we played with character and personality on the pitch, which was very important.
“I think for the second game we know exactly how we want to play. We want to play with passion, discipline on the pitch and belief.
“I think we have a good team and we are ready for that challenge.”