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United kicks off Ratcliffe era in style

XINHUA | Updated: 2023-12-28 09:13
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Rasmus Hojlund (center) celebrates scoring Manchester United's winner in a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Tuesday. The 82nd-minute strike was the Danish forward's first Premier League goal since arriving from Atalanta in the summer. AP

New part-owner's rebuild begins with thrilling Old Trafford escape act

MANCHESTER, England — Welcome to Manchester United, Jim Ratcliffe.

In the space of 90 minutes, and in front of soon-to-be director Dave Brailsford, Old Trafford witnessed the best and worst of Erik ten Hag's team.

Two days after confirmation that British billionaire Ratcliffe will buy a stake of up to 25 percent in the club, United trailed by two goals inside 26 minutes against Aston Villa and was booed by the home crowd on Tuesday. Ten Hag's players then produced a spectacular second-half comeback to win 3-2 and spark celebrations rarely seen at its famed stadium during a troubled season so far.

"We said, 'Keep going. Believe it, in ourselves.' That is what I demand from the team," Ten Hag said afterward. "We said it before the game and during halftime, 'Keep believing and we will win this game.'

"If we play our best we can beat anyone. Even when you are two-nil down, it doesn't matter. Keep going, show character. Today they showed we have the personality to do it."

Unai Emery's men remain third, three points behind leader Liverpool after their first defeat in 11 matches in all competitions.

"Two weeks ago I was asked if we were contenders and I said no. Why? Because we are playing several top teams that are contenders more than us," Emery said.

"I told the players that the first part of the season was fantastic but I want more."

Going into the game on the back of a run of four matches in all competitions without a win or a goal, United took to the field for the first time since Ratcliffe secured an agreement worth around $1.6 billion to buy into the club he has supported from childhood.

Brailsford is the director of sport for INEOS Sport, which Ratcliffe owns, and on Tuesday it was confirmed he will be a director of United once the deal is completed.

He got a taste of the sense of frustration among the 20-time league champion's fans — with United last winning the title in 2013 — and the animosity toward American owners the Glazer family, who put the club up for sale last year.

Ratcliffe will take charge of soccer operations as part of his investment and Brailsford is expected to play a big part in a new structure.

'Looking forward'

"We are looking forward, I think it's positive for the club that they are stepping in," Ten Hag told reporters. "They have a lot of experience in sport on the highest level, F1, the cycling team (INEOS Grenadiers), other football clubs, so it can only help and support us to get our targets. So we are looking forward. They want to work with us and we want to work with them."

While it will take more than one win to turn a season around that has already seen United eliminated from the Champions League and the English League Cup, the electric atmosphere in the second half was a taste of what can be achieved by bringing the good times back to Old Trafford.

Villa went ahead through first-half goals from John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker.

Alejandro Garnacho sparked United's revival with two second-half goals and Rasmus Hojlund scored his first Premier League goal since arriving from Atalanta in the summer to earn the win.

Acknowledging the drought had affected the young Danish forward, Ten Hag said: "I have had several talks with him. I pointed out that he scored for Denmark a lot, that he scored in the Champions League, so believe in it and it will come," he said.

"Of course, when strikers don't score it is a problem but he has a strong character and is always determined. He has a big personality. And the goal will come."

United moved up to sixth place, three points behind defending champion Manchester City in fifth. City has played two fewer games than United.

Liverpool leads

Elsewhere, Liverpool returned to the top of the league as Darwin Nunez ended a 12-game scoring drought to set up a 2-0 win for Jurgen Klopp's team at Burnley.

Liverpool moved two points clear of second-place Arsenal, which has a game in hand against West Ham on Thursday.

Nunez curled home a shot from distance in the sixth minute at Turf Moor, having failed to find the back of the net for his club since Nov 1.

After drawing back-to-back league games, Liverpool failed to make the most of its dominance before substitute Diogo Jota eventually ended any concerns of a Burnley equalizer with a goal in the 90th.

"We've created a lot of chances recently and haven't used an awful lot of them but in the end it's about performing," Liverpool manager Klopp said. "We've played four games in 10 days and you just have to get through it."

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