Soccer-Man United learned from thrashing at Man City to make huge progress, says Ten Hag

By Peter Hall

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United have made huge progress since their 6-3 thrashing at rivals Manchester City in October, coach Erik ten Hag said, with the lessons learned from that loss standing them in good stead for the return derby clash on Saturday.

United host City having lost just once from 18 matches in all competitions since their humbling at the Etihad Stadium and victory at Old Trafford will see Ten Hag's side move to within a point of second-placed champions City.

Having not won the league title in a decade, Ten Hag has got supporters dreaming of ending that barren run sooner than expected, with their recent form a world away from the team who were so inferior to City on Oct. 2.

"It was a lesson, we took the lesson and from that point on we have made huge progress," Ten Hag told a news conference on Friday.

"We have to prove that tomorrow on the pitch. Last time we didn't do well and we have to do it better. It has been a process in the last months where we have developed. We have to be brave, have to believe and have to play our game.

"It is not about that game anymore. It is the past, it is about the future."

City are five points behind leaders Arsenal in their quest for a fifth Premier League title in the last six seasons, but they were knocked out of the League Cup by lowly Southampton in midweek, looking unusually flat in attack.

Ten Hag is not taking that defeat as a sign that City are there for the taking on Saturday, however, instead focusing on what he can control.

"Of course we noticed that they had a setback," he added. "I have seen the past weeks many games of them. But we have to look at ourselves, we have to play our best game.

"That is what I demand tomorrow from my players. Togetherness with full belief, not naive. It is January and we are not even halfway. It is this period of the season that you have to get in your position to win trophies at the end of it."

The Dutchman also revealed the loan signing of Burnley striker Wout Weghorst is "close", but he will not be available to face City. Striker Anthony Martial is also a fitness concern.

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)