Rio Ferdinand is happy he no longer has to watch Manchester United games through his fingers as Erik ten Hag’s side prepares for Saturday’s Old Trafford derby.
The former United defender admits that some of the ‘crazy s***’ he has witnessed at his old club in recent years has left him on edge.
But Ferdinand has seen enough improvement under Ten Hag to give him hope that United have a chance of beating Manchester City in the 189th derby in front of the BT Sport cameras on Saturday lunchtime.
BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand (above) has hailed boss Erik ten Hag’s rebuild at Manchester United – saying he is happy that he no longer has to watch matches ‘through his fingers’
Dutch boss Ten Hag, who joined the club this summer, has won 20 of his 27 games in charge
Turn Manchester red or blue by voting in @BTSportFootball’s poll on Twitter ahead of the derby.
‘Consistency is the key element for me: getting and remaining consistent is vital and we’re starting to see that with Man United,’ said Ferdinand.
Ferdinand will be on punishment duty for the weekend’s derby
‘I’m now going to a game not looking through my fingers expecting crazy s*** going on. I’m going there now thinking, ‘actually, you know what, I fancy us today’.
‘There isn’t that panic there was before or the complete capitulation we’ve been seeing for a while. There is a calm edge around the team.
‘That comes from the manager and from a rebuild – rebuilding individuals which, in turn, helps the collective.
‘You’re seeing players growing in confidence. These were a bunch of players that were shot to pieces and he (Ten Hag) has had to build not only footballers but men back up again.
‘For far too long, we were going into games thinking, ‘obviously we are going to get beat here today, but I don’t know by how many’. Or we were going to the likes of Brentford and conceding one and it could be three or four.
‘When we have been feeling that as Man United fans, it’s nice going to games not feeling like that. I’m going to this derby thinking ‘we can give them a game’.
Revamped United defeated Charlton 3-0 on Tuesday to reach the League Cup semi-finals
‘We have got to play at our best and hope that they drop a little bit off it to win, but that is better than how I’ve gone into games in recent seasons. But I wouldn’t get too carried away.’
Ferdinand feels that discipline has been just as important as confidence and consistency in United’s revival, which has brought 11 wins in the last 12 games.
Marcus Rashford has scored 10 goals in that sequence, but that didn’t stop Ten Hag from dropping him at Wolves on New Year’s Eve for oversleeping and being late for a team meeting.
‘There are positive signs and discipline is a huge part of it,’ added Ferdinand. ‘When people have asked me over the last few years about Man Utd and what I want to see, one of them definitely is to have discipline running through the veins of the club.
‘That is a real bedrock of any good football club. Discipline runs through and the players are very aware of where they stand in that. I think the fanbase will like that.
‘Players are being made accountable for their actions – whether it is during 90 minutes or off the pitch and at the training ground – and I think that is a key part of any success.’
Ferdinand also praised Ten Hag for his recruitment and the way in which he has improved the squad he inherited at Old Trafford last summer.
The former defender also praised 52-year-old Ten Hag for bringing better discipline to the club
‘Over the last few years, how many players have actually gone up in value and improved the squad with consistent performances?’ asked Ferdinand. ‘You are hard pressed to find any. Bruno Fernandes is the only one that comes out with any positive comments in that sense.
‘Under Erik ten Hag, he has improved quite a few players. Luke Shaw’s value has gone up since he came in, and Diogo Dalot – that’s two full-backs for starters. Marcus Rashford obviously.
‘He and his team have to get the right players in. You look at Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen, two stand-outs in terms of his recruitment.
‘Maybe there was some negativity surrounding both of those signings for different reasons, and they have both come in and been integral to everything positive that has been going on at this football club so far.’
Asked which United players would get into the current City side, Ferdinand replied: ‘On form, you have to say Rashford. Eriksen and Fernandes would be in with a shout.
‘Casemiro and Rodri are the two best holding midfielders in the league. Martinez and Varane would have an argument to get in the team as well.
‘The fact you can have a conversation over four or five players is a step in the right direction. But let’s not get it twisted, City are way ahead of where Man United are.’
Ferdinand also said United would need to annoy City striker Erling Haaland (right) in a bid to put him off his game – like Everton defender Ben Godfrey (left) did in a 1-1 draw on December 31
One of the reasons for that is the form of 27-goal summer signing Erling Haaland, who scored a hat-trick when City hammered United 6-3 in the return fixture at the Etihad in October.
Ferdinand saw Ben Godfrey ruffle the Norwegian’s feathers when Everton held Pep Guardiola’s side to a draw a fortnight ago, and believes that might be the best way to keep Haaland in check.
‘I watched that game and saw Ben Godfrey, who I know well actually, all over him trying to get under his skin, pushing him, shoving him and kicking him,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Within the laws of the game, that’s a good plot because you could see Erling Haaland enjoys that, but you’re affecting his concentration as well. Listen, he scored a goal but he wasn’t as impactful as he has been in previous games.
‘You’ve got to see the way certain teams play against people, teams and individuals, and learn from it. There will be other defenders sitting there thinking ‘I’m going to go at it like that maybe’.
‘You definitely would be focusing on Haaland and making sure you try and stop him, but I think just as important is the supply line.
‘He’s very different from a Kylian Mbappe who can get the ball on the halfway line and beat three, four or five men. Haaland’s game isn’t about that. His game is about being on the end of opportunities being provided by others.
He added stopping the supply line from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne (left) was crucial as well
‘You can’t allow the De Bruynes of this world to have free rein to put the ball in spaces. Haaland will get in there no matter which defender is playing.
‘You try to stop areas that he wants to be in. He wants to get in behind you and run into loads of green grass. Nullify that threat. But also you’ve got to stop where the ball is coming from as a team.
‘Everyone was saying City haven’t got a Plan B, but Erling Haaland is the Plan A now. Put tika-taka football on the side for a little bit.
‘They can still do it but they have another string to their bow now, and it makes them a more difficult team to play against. If you shut them down now, they can quite easily go from back to front through wide areas and something will happen.’
So what would a win on Saturday do for United? ‘I think in the short-term, it would be fantastic and a valuable three points. The confidence levels would go through the roof,’ said Ferdinand.
‘For Erik ten Hag as well, just to reinforce what he’s doing with his team it would be a big moment for them.
‘But nothing more than that. That’s all it would do, add to the confidence and momentum. I don’t think it changes how we view Man United and the distance between the clubs.’