Erik ten Hag says he did not bring Cristiano Ronaldo off the bench during Manchester United’s 6-3 defeat at Manchester City “out of respect”.
The 37-year-old was an unused substitute for the first time this season as City thumped United at the Etihad on Super Sunday.
Marcus Rashford’s return from a muscle injury saw Ronaldo drop out of United’s starting line-up and despite Ten Hag making five changes during the game, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was not one of them.
Asked why Ronaldo did not feature, Ten Hag revealed he did not want to insult the forward by introducing him with United already 4-0 down.
“It was out of respect for his big career,” the Dutchman said at his post-match press conference.
Ten Hag admitted United “lacked belief” in the derby, while City boss Pep Guardiola insisted some of his City players still “have to improve”.
Erling Haaland and Phil Foden scored hat-tricks as City halted any talk of rejuvenation from their rivals.
United went into the fixture having won their previous four games in the Premier League, but they were abruptly brought back down to earth.
Although two late goals by Anthony Martial added some respectability to the scoreline, the contest was effectively over as early as the 44th minute as City scored four times in the first half.
Ten Hag told Sky Sports: “We had a lack of belief. I’m surprised why we didn’t bring it on the pitch.
“It was four weeks ago, but I had seen a different team with a different spirit and a different vibe. Today, we weren’t convincing. From the first minute, we were not on the front foot and we were not brave in possession.
“It’s always difficult to find out why that is, especially straight after the game. I will have to talk to my players and find out.
“They know they can do better. You saw the performances against Arsenal and Liverpool but if you don’t fight – which we didn’t – then you have a problem against a team like Manchester City.
“Once again, it was a lack of belief.”
Despite an impressive first-half performance, City manager Pep Guardiola insisted there was still room for improvement from his side.
He told Sky Sports: “It was really good. We scored four goals in the first half and we could have scored more really. They played better in the second half and the last minutes was flat, but it was a good game and everyone in the stadium was happy.
“In the first half we were aggressive and had the space, and the quality of players we had up front made the difference.
“Some players were not good today and have to improve.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, it’s impossible. But we have to try to look for it. We have done well today, but we can do better.
“Many, many players made sloppy passes and we lost it and this is not good. We have to be more consistent in our passes.
“In the final third you can have more creativity, you can take more risks, but in some areas, we were not good.”
‘Haaland’s numbers are scary’
Asked about Haaland, who took his tally to 17 goals in all competitions this season with another devastating hat-trick, Guardiola said: “The numbers speak for themselves.
“I have to say something. He has done this before he arrived here – in Norway, in Austria, in Germany.
“He scores goals, so always we try to seduce them in our environment and the way we play and get it. He has this incredible sense.
“He always looks starving, he is so competitive. We are happy that he scores another goal, the numbers are scary honestly.”
Man City host Copenhagen in the Champions League on Wednesday at 8pm, before Man Utd travel to Omonia in the Europa League on Thursday at 5.45pm.
City then host Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday at 3pm, before United travel to Everton on Sunday at 7pm.