Manchester United booked their place in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, with Erik ten Hag making full use of his squad.
Erik ten Hag hailed the strength of Manchester United’s squad after winning 1-0 away at Real Betis and joked he was just glad none of his players got themselves sent off.
Marcus Rashford’s strike early in the second half proved the difference in Thursday’s second leg as United advanced to the Europa League quarter-finals 5-1 aggregate winners.
Holding a three-goal lead from last week’s reverse fixture, Ten Hag handed a first senior start to Facundo Pellistri, while Tyrell Malacia and Harry Maguire were also recalled.
Marcel Sabitzer, Anthony Elanga, Victor Lindelof, Jadon Sancho and Diogo Dalot were also introduced in the second half, with Ten Hag able to make full use of his fringe players.
“I think all the players did very well,” he told BT Sport. “Those who came in put in a good performance. We not only have 11 players, we have a squad.”
However, despite talking up the strength of his squad, Ten Hag was pleased not to lose any players for the quarter-finals.
Asked about the most pleasing aspect of the victory, the Dutchman said: “No red cards, no injuries. We have a big squad, but not that big.”
United have won more games than any side across Europe’s big five leagues in all competitions this term (32), while only Barcelona (22) have more clean sheets than their 21.
After failing to register a shot on target in the first half of a game for the first time this season, United improved and easily held on after Rashford’s 27th goal of the campaign.
“I’m happy but we like challenges,” Ten Hag said. “We knew before that Betis is a really good team. We have seen it against Real Madrid, against Barcelona.
“I think we could also go into the lead but there was some moments in defensive transitions that they could break and we have to avoid that and keep more control of the ball.
“We didn’t always do it and the second half was much better. But you see also the energy is out of the opponent and especially after you get the first goal.”
United are now in the hat for Friday’s draw, but focus will first switch to Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final with Fulham.
That match should provide Maguire with another opportunity to start, and the United captain is eager to show he deserves more regular playing time.
“I work hard at the training ground and that’s all that you can do,” he told BT Sport. “You can work hard in training; I put everything into training.
“Obviously I want to play more, I want to start more games, but I’m playing my part on and off the field.
“It’s nice to be out there leading the team and getting the victory, which is the most important part for myself and the club.
“Every day I try to make this club succeed, whether I’m playing or not. That’s my main focus at the moment.”
United are now unbeaten in their past seven European away games against Spanish sides, winning five and drawing two.