Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag dubbed his side's defeat to Aston Villa as "not acceptable", following a woeful performance at Villa Park.

The hosts raced into a two-goal lead inside 11 minutes, with Leon Bailey firing home and Lucas Digne converting a free-kick, but a fortuitous own goal when Luke Shaw's effort deflected off Jacob Ramsey pulled one back just before the break.

United's start to the second period was just as poor as the first half, however, with Ramsey firing home at the right end this time to restore his side's two-goal advantage, and the visitors were unable to muster anything in return.

That left Ten Hag disappointed with the performance of his players, highlighting they had been off the mark.

"We lost the game at the start of the first half and second half and that is not acceptable. They looked more fresh and more ready," he told BBC's Match of the Day.

"We need to be more sharp. The result is really clear. It never lies. Today we were not good enough.

"We didn't get the right organisation. We created chances and good chances at 2-1. But you are really disappointed to concede at the start of the second half."

Shaw offered a similar assessment of United's display, conceding that they expected a quick start due to Villa's new manager bounce with Unai Emery.

"We knew they were coming out with a new manager and a new feeling. We did expect it. But in games like this, if you start slowly in the first 20 minutes then you are going to lose," he said.

"We were not good enough. We have always got to believe we can win games even when we're 2-0 down. We conceded early in the second half and it's a mountain to climb after that.

"If you watch the game back, you'll see we made a sloppy start. They were finding spaces and pockets and turning with ease. That is not good enough. We didn't deserve to win."

Unai Emery marked his return to English football in style as Aston Villa beat Manchester United 3-1 at Villa Park in the Premier League on Sunday.

The hosts needed just seven minutes to take the lead, Leon Bailey firing home, with Lucas Digne then dispatching a free-kick shortly after to leave Villa in control.

United pulled one back in the first half, Jacob Ramsey directing Luke Shaw's effort from distance into his own net, but he then scored at the right end shortly after the restart.

Erik ten Hag's side could not find a response, with Villa's defence never truly tested on what was another frustrating day for United.

Emery's return to the Premier League began in ideal fashion, Ramsey feeding a pass through to Bailey who showed his pace to find space away from Lisandro Martinez before sending his shot into the bottom-right corner.

The home side doubled their lead four minutes later as Lucas Digne expertly converted a free-kick from just outside the area to leave David de Gea with no chance and send Villa Park into pandemonium.

United reduced the deficit before the interval, Shaw letting loose from distance and the strike taking a wicked deflection off Ramsey.

Villa restored their two-goal lead three minutes into the second half, Ollie Watkins driving forward and laying off a pass to Ramsey, who arrived inside the box to fire a fierce effort into the roof of the net.

United failed to threaten a revival and suffered their fourth defeat of the season and first since the start of October.

Erik ten Hag handed Cristiano Ronaldo the captain's armband for Manchester United's clash with Aston Villa on Sunday. 

Ronaldo's future at United remains far from certain, with the 37-year-old not a guaranteed starter under Ten Hag.

However, 17 days on from storming down the tunnel after being an unused substitute against Tottenham – an act that saw him left out against Chelsea on October 22 – Ronaldo was given the armband for the game at Villa Park.

Against no side has Ronaldo scored more Premier League goals than he has against Villa (eight).

United's club captain Harry Maguire was named on the bench, with Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez preferred to the England international in the centre of defence.

Ronaldo teed up Alejandro Garnacho's winner against Real Sociedad in the Europa League on Thursday, and the youngster was rewarded with his first Premier League start.

Donny van de Beek was also named in United's starting XI for the first time in the league, while new Villa boss Unai Emery made two changes to the side that was thrashed 4-0 by Newcastle United last time out.

Milan forward Rafael Leao continues to be linked with a host of top European clubs who are plotting January moves.

Leao won last season's Serie A Footballer of the Year and has maintained his fine form this term.

The 23-year-old forward is contracted with Milan until mid-2024, prompting interest to prise him away from the Rossoneri.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN PREPARING FOR BUMPER JANUARY BIDS FOR RAFAEL LEAO

Milan are preparing for January bids from Chelsea and Manchester City of approximately £105 million for Rafael Leao, reports Tuttomercato.

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have also shown an interest in the Portuguese attacker.

Milan are still working on a new deal with Leao before he departs for the World Cup, hoping to tie him down on a long-term contract.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag is considering trying to lure Dusan Vlahovic to Old Trafford as he prepares for life without Cristiano Ronaldo, reports The Sun on Sunday. Juventus forward Vlahovic moved to the Bianconeri from Fiorentina in January for £62million.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has told the club to sign Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans in the January transfer window, claims The Sun. Tielemans is valued at £40m and is out of contract at the end of this season.

– The Mirror reports Arsenal are also interested in a January move for Vitoria Guimaraes midfielder Ibrahima Bamba, having sent scouts to watch him.

– Calciomercato claims Tottenham are looking into a swap deal involving Emerson Royal in order to bring Dutch defender Denzel Dumfries to the club from Inter.

– Serie A leaders Napoli are preparing an offer for Barcelona's Jordi Alba, who is looking for first-team football, according to El Nacional.

Wayne Parnell explained the motivation he takes from Cristiano Ronaldo as the bowler looked towards South Africa's T20 World Cup clash with the Netherlands.

Ronaldo has altered his goal celebration as of late, replacing his famous "Siu" with a "peace of mind" gesture, seemingly in response to his trouble at Manchester United this season.

It is a celebration that has been copied at the T20 World Cup by South Africa paceman Parnell, standing with his eyes closed, fingers crossed in front of his chest and his head rolled back.

Parnell has taken five wickets so far in Australia, helping South Africa to two victories in Group 2. Ahead of their final match of the pool stage against the Netherlands on Sunday, the Proteas sit in second place, and a victory over the Dutch would guarantee their place in the last four.

And in his pre-match press conference, Parnell explained how he takes inspiration from one of the world's finest footballers.

He said: "It's the Ronaldo celebration. He has always been one of my favourite footballers, and I've obviously followed his career quite closely.

"And I think I've kind of taken on some stuff that he has been going through, you know, as a professional athlete and someone that's very competitive and passionate about doing well.

"That's something that I've always wanted to do as well is contribute to the team's success."

It is not all about emulating an idol, though. For Parnell, it is also about enjoying playing in front of crowds again following the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's just about having fun as well," Parnell added, "I think, you know, we're very lucky to be playing this sport and to be able to do it on this world stage.

"Obviously, there's no COVID, so we have fans back, and it's just about entertaining everyone."

Looking ahead to South Africa's must-win game on Sunday, Parnell said: "I think now it's just really simple. If you actually look at it, tomorrow is basically a quarter-final. Then obviously if we win that, we go to a semi-final. If we win that, we go to the final.

"In a way it's actually worked out well where we are under a certain amount of pressure to obviously get through, but I always like to look at it from a positive point of view where it's basically a quarter-final. It's just about winning it really."

Pep Guardiola believes Newcastle United are contenders for the Premier League trophy this season and feels Liverpool cannot be ruled out of the running, naming six rivals for Manchester City's crown.

City are bidding for a third consecutive Premier League triumph and sit two points behind early-season leaders Arsenal ahead of this weekend's fixtures. 

With last season's runners-up Liverpool languishing in ninth place amid a dire start to the campaign, the upper reaches of the table have an unfamiliar look – with Newcastle flying high in fourth.

Eddie Howe's team have won three successive Premier League games and have conceded just 10 goals in their 13 outings in the competition this term – fewer than any other side, leading Guardiola to talk up their chances.

Asked which teams were in contention for the title, Guardiola said: "I would say Arsenal, I would say Man City, I would say Chelsea, I would say Newcastle, I would say Tottenham, I would say [Manchester] United and I would say Liverpool as well. 

"I think these teams can fight for the title."

Pushed on why he viewed Newcastle as part of that conversation, Guardiola highlighted their lack of European football and the high-pressing style instilled by Howe.

"They have incredible physicality," Guardiola said, "they don't play in Europe and when this happens, it's a big advantage when arriving at the decisive moment in terms of energy. 

"They have incredible energy for themselves. Imagine having one long week [to prepare]. A good manager, top-class players, experienced ones, quality in the middle, box-to-box transition team. 

"The way they have the intensity without the ball is so impressive, it's high, and that is a big difference. They have a good momentum and I imagine that they are going to stay there for longer."

Much of Guardiola's trophy-laden spell at City has been characterised by close title battles with Liverpool, and he has refused to write off Jurgen Klopp's side despite their poor start.

"In the past, the same manager and the same squad are able to make 17 victories in a row, 18 victories in a row, 14 victories in a row," Guardiola said.

"Many times in these last years they have done it, why can't [they] do it again? 

"Nobody knows what is going to happen after the World Cup with the transfer window, how the players come back. This is my feeling. 

"The first candidate right now is Arsenal. Why? They are top of the league and the rest are behind. The gap is close. 

"We'll see how we finish in the last two games, but I think many of these teams deserve to be there, and we'll see how they play against all of them. 

"How teams like United and Newcastle have stepped forward, and how Tottenham have done so, they can be there, [there are] no doubts."

Barcelona have reportedly reignited their chase of Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva, and are said to be confident in their ability to get the deal done in January.

Silva, 28, has won four league titles with City since arriving at the club in 2017, and is enjoying another strong season after setting a new career-high with eight Premier League goals in the 2021-22 campaign.

The Portuguese international with 72 senior caps has two goals and five assists in his 12 league appearances this season, and has appeared in all six of City's Champions League group stage fixtures.

Barcelona have been linked with Silva for months, but after recent reports claimed they had moved on, a recent development has positively impacted the Spanish giants' financial situation and put the City star back on their radar.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA REVISIT CITY'S SILVA AFTER PIQUE RETIREMENT

According to Sport, the retirement of Gerard Pique has resulted in significantly improved financial flexibility for Barcelona, allowing them to revisit their long-standing interest in Silva.

The report claims City may be hesitant to part ways with a key contributor in the midst of a title chase, but that Silva had previously asked to leave the club before the failed sale of Frenkie de Jong muddied the waters.

Meanwhile, Mundo Deportivo adds Barcelona will look at 31-year-old Athletic Bilbao centre-back Inigo Martinez as their top choice to fill the defensive void left by Pique's departure.

 

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato is reporting Chelsea are preparing to terminate the loan of Denis Zakaria, claiming they can not offer him regular starts and have no interest in activating the €28million buy clause in the deal.

– According to ESPN, Liverpool are the favourites ahead of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United and City to land Borussia Dortmund phenom Jude Bellingham.

– The Leicester Mercury is reporting Leicester City will not allow Youri Tielemans to leave during the January transfer window, despite his contract expiring at the end of the season.

Milan are keeping a close eye on 22-year-old Spezia centre-back Jakub Kiwior, with Gazzetta dello Sport reporting they could make a move in January.

– According to La Razon, Aston Villa manager Unai Emery is interested in 25-year-old centre-back Pau Torres, who he coached at Villarreal.

Erik ten Hag acknowledges Donny van de Beek must improve in order to be a success at Manchester United, but is refusing to give up on the midfielder.

Having impressed in an advanced role for Ten Hag's Ajax team, Van de Beek moved to Old Trafford for an initial fee of £35million in 2020, but has since struggled for consistent game-time.

Van de Beek made 27 Premier League appearances across his first two campaigns with United, and has only played 19 minutes in the competition this season after enduring an equally frustrating loan spell at Everton earlier in 2022.

Those struggles have seen Van de Beek lose his place in the Netherlands' squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, but Ten Hag – who started the midfielder in Thursday's Europa League win at Real Sociedad – believes the 25-year-old can change his fortunes. 

Asked on Thursday whether there would be a point at which United accepted Van de Beek's move had not worked out, Ten Hag replied: "Yes. Not now. 

"I think he had quite a good pre-season. He was injured, now he's back. Last week [against Sheriff in the Europa League] I think he played very well, and today I think it was a decent performance.

"I know he can do better as I know him very well. He acted and delivered what I expect in terms of positioning, pressing, transition and accuracy. 

"I think he can be more of a threat to the opponents' goal, that's his biggest quality. In the time I am here, he is performing well in the game-time we gave him."

Unai Emery preached patience as he met the media for the first time as Aston Villa coach on Friday, but that did not stop him setting a "personal challenge" to bring silverware to Villa Park.

Emery started work as Villa boss this week having left former club Villarreal, where he achieved Europa League success in the 2020-21 season.

But initial ambitions will have to be more modest at Villa, with the side 16th in the Premier League table ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester United.

If results go against his new team on Saturday, Emery could find himself in the relegation zone by the time of his first match in charge.

For that reason, Emery had a dash of realism to go with his optimistic plans for the future on his return to the Premier League.

"My dream is to win a trophy with Aston Villa," said the former Arsenal manager, who was asked if Villa could qualify for Europe this season.

"It's my personal challenge at the beginning. And my second dream, my objective could be to play with Aston Villa in Europe.

"But now we have to start thinking only [about] the next match because we are not in a good position in the table now, and each match is going to give us a lot of information from the players and I want to test, to check individually and collectively the players.

"The next match is my only focus now, Sunday against Manchester United, and, of course, playing here at home."

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag is expecting a "difficult" test against Aston Villa following the appointment of Unai Emery, who has his first game in charge on Sunday.

The Spaniard makes his return to the Premier League after a previous stint with Arsenal, having rebuilt his reputation with Villarreal, where he won the Europa League against United in 2020-21.

A swift impact is needed at Villa, who enter the match on the back of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Newcastle United last time out and having won just one of their past six Premier League matches.

United, meanwhile, have enjoyed back-to-back 1-0 victories against West Ham and Real Sociedad but will need to make changes amid their packed schedule, with Ten Hag mulling over his defensive options.

"I have to see because Aston Villa is going to be a difficult one as we don't know. They have a new manager and I have to have a look and analyse from that game, from that team and then we have a choice," he said.

"But Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof played really well together over some more games. I also think Licha [Martinez] and Harry [Maguire] last Sunday against West Ham United kept a clean sheet and also did really well.

"So that's a choice we have to make. When I choose one, it is not one thing against the other.''

One definite change will come in midfield due to Bruno Fernandes' suspension, having accrued five yellow cards in the Premier League.

''We know that we have to replace Bruno. That is quite clear," Ten Hag added.

"We have to see how we replace him and we have to think about that and it is short, so soon after this [Real Sociedad] game. I have one night to think about that.''

United travelled to Spain without attacking trio Antony, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial, with Ten Hag unsure if they would be available for this weekend's game.

"It's difficult to say in this moment," he said. "I have to talk with the medical and the performance team as they did a programme in Manchester.

"I have to hear how their progress was and if they can be available for Sunday's match."

LaLiga has warned a fresh attempt to launch a European Super League will be offering only a rehashed version of the competition that launched and collapsed within days last year, leaving clubs humiliated.

The Spanish league is determined to fend off a new proposition for an elite league, and has warned it would "destroy" the existing structure of the domestic game.

In a statement, LaLiga pointed to a previous proposal from 2019, as well as the calamitous launching of the Super League last year that saw 12 teams agree to take part, before almost all pulled out in a hurry after a furious backlash from fans, politicians and football governing bodies.

It was revealed in October 2022 that A22 Sports Management – a company representing the Super League clubs – is planning to revive the proposals. Bernd Reichart, a media executive, has been appointed to head up the plans.

LaLiga said on Twitter on Friday: "The promoters of the Super League are now preparing a model similar to the one put forward in 2019, which is still closed or mostly closed, which will destroy the national leagues and which has already been rejected by clubs and leagues in Europe."

Spanish giants Barcelona are among the teams still keen on the idea of a new competition, with club president Joan Laporta last month saying it would be "more even" than the current system, claiming UEFA is not satisfactorily enforcing the ethos of financial fair play.

LaLiga published a video expressing its opposition to the Super League, in which it stated that "the whole of European football took a stand against its closed, selfish and elitist model".

"Now the promoters of the Super League are trying to conceal its format, claiming that they still don't have a fixed model although it will be an inclusive and open," LaLiga added.

"We know that this is false, and that they want to present a semi-closed format similar to 2019 which has already been rejected by the clubs and European leagues.

"This model is based on promotion and relegation between European divisions where the national leagues do not provide direct access to the top tier. On the contrary, they perpetuate the participation of a privileged few, even if they perform poorly in their domestic leagues.

"To be clear: anything less than any club earning its place in Europe's top flight through success in the domestic leagues will remain a closed or semi-closed model.

"We have also heard that the Super League wants to claim to be the saviour of football, saying that the current system no longer appeals to young people. Fake news. As an example, data shows that LaLiga's audience in Spain among those under the age of 24 has increased by more than 22 per cent in the last four seasons."

LaLiga also said research showed football's global fan base had risen by 3.4 per cent in the 16-29 age bracket, while stating TikTok metrics revealed 60 per cent of its mainly young audience consumes football content.

The statement from LaLiga said the Super League's promise of "a more exciting competition" would in reality mean "a constant stream of the same type of clashes, turning the extraordinary into the ordinary".

It warned such a competition "would destroy the ability to turn dreams into reality", denying smaller clubs than the cherry-picked elite the long-established pathway to competition at the highest level.

LaLiga, whose president Javier Tebas has been a vocal opponent of the proposed new competition, added: "The promoters of the Super League must respect the will of European fans and citizens, where the Council of Europe has already taken a position against the Super League and the European Parliament has defended an open, democratic model based on meritocracy."

Atletico Madrid were eliminated from Europe in midweek after a 2-1 loss at Porto and are looking to bolster their squad.

One player who could be sold is Joao Felix, who Atleti signed for €126million from Benfica on a seven-year deal in 2019.

The Portuguese forward has underwhelmed this season, with only two goals, and has been unsettled at times.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO WILLING TO LISTEN TO JOAO FELIX OFFERS

Cadena SER claims Atletico Madrid have put Joao Felix on the market and are open to offers for him.

Bayern Munich were rumoured to have made a €100m off-season move for Felix, while Manchester United reportedly had a €130m bid turned down in August.

Fichajes reported last month that the 22-year-old had handed in a transfer request, while Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have been linked with him recently.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are getting proactive in the pursuit of Palmeiras' 16-year-old talent Endrick, sending officials to Brazil to commence talks over a deal, claims Marca. Endrick cannot officially join Madrid until he is 18-years-old but Los Blancos are eager to get an agreement in place.

West Ham, Leicester City, Southampton and Brentford are all monitoring Lyon's Brazilian winger Tete, according to The Sun.

– Diario Sport reports Barcelona want to sign Athletic Bilbao centre-back Inigo Martinez as a replacement for the retiring Gerard Pique.

Leicester are weighing up their options for a Youri Tielemans replacement, keeping tabs on Lorient midfielder Enzo Le Fee, reports 90min.

– La Gazzetta dello Sport reports veteran French forward Olivier Giroud will be rewarded with a new Milan contract after the World Cup. The new deal will run until 2024.

Bruno Fernandes credited Alejandro Garnacho for improving his previously poor attitude after the teenager marked a rare Manchester United start with the winner against Real Sociedad.

Garnacho was named United's under-18 Player of the Year last season but has largely remained on the periphery of the first-team squad under Erik ten Hag this campaign.

The teenager proved his worth on Thursday, though, scoring his first senior goal for United with a first-half strike in a 1-0 win at La Real in the Europa League.

While the 18-year-old will hope to feature more for Ten Hag at Old Trafford now, Fernandes says he must continue with a much-improved attitude after failing to impress in pre-season with the senior side.

"He was good but he knows we expect at lot from him. He's still really young. He's doing really well," the Portugal international told BT Sport.

"At the beginning of the season, not at his best, in the tour he didn't have the best attitude that he should have and that's why he didn't get his chances until now.

"Now he's getting chances because he's training better, he's having a better attitude and he deserves his chances."

Garnacho's strike may earn him a share of the plaudits but United still had to settle for second in Group E after Imanol Alguacil's side topped the pool by virtue of a better head-to-head record.

Juventus and Barcelona, both sides to be eliminated from the Champions League, could await United in the Europa League's knockout play-off round, with the draw set to take place on Monday.

Despite not progressing as winners of the group after failing to secure the two-goal win that was required, Fernandes believes the victory will offer Ten Hag's side encouragement.

"Obviously, we knew that we needed a two-goal difference to go through at the top of the group, but it was not possible," he added. 

"But we won the game, we keep the momentum, we didn't concede a goal once again, so we have to keep the positives of this game, and there are many positives – much more than negatives. 

"So it's just [about] keeping the momentum on Sunday [when United visit Aston Villa in the Premier League]."

Erik ten Hag admits Manchester United were left "disappointed" after failing to top their Europa League group, despite a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad on Thursday.

A triumph by two or more goals would have seen United advance as Group E winners by virtue of a superior head-to-head record over La Real.

Alejandro Garnacho's 17th-minute goal gave United hope, but that proved to be their only shot on target during a lacklustre display at the Reale Arena.

Ten Hag, whose side subsequently face a play-off against one of the teams knocked out of the Champions League, told BT Sport: "You do not always get what you deserve. 

"Of course, we are disappointed we didn't score two goals because that's what we needed. We want always to be number one, and when we aren't, we are disappointed."

Ten Hag took some positives out the game, highlighting the display of Garnacho after the 18-year-old became United's youngest non-English goalscorer in major European competition, taking the record from club legend George Best.

"Today, we win, and I am happy with that, and some other things like the performance of Alejandro Garnacho," the Dutchman added.

"We had problems there [on the wing]. Antony was out, and Jadon Sancho was not available. I really hope he can keep the process going. He was a threat. If he can keep this going, I am really happy."

Alejandro Garnacho's strike to give Manchester United a 1-0 Europa League victory over Real Sociedad on Thursday was in vain as the Spanish side retained Group E's top spot.

A win by two or more goals would have seen United through as group winners by virtue of a superior head-to-head record, and Garnacho's early finish sparked hopes of Erik ten Hag's side achieving just that.

But a resolute defensive display from La Real saw them do enough to prevent United getting a second, despite coming under increasing pressure late on.

Ten Hag's men advance but will be forced into a two-legged play-off with one of the teams knocked out of the Champions League, a list that includes Barcelona and Juventus.

La Real started brighter but United grew into the game and took the lead after 17 minutes, Garnacho latching onto Cristiano Ronaldo's throughball and holding off a defender before rifling home from a tight angle.

David de Gea made a stunning double save to preserve United's lead before the break, tipping Andoni Gorosabel's long-range strike wide at full stretch before somehow blocking Pablo Marin's shot from the rebound over.

United still required another goal, but La Real threatened at the other end 16 minutes from time, with substitute Ander Guevara forcing a smart save from De Gea with his low drive.

La Real continued to defend resiliently and limited United to few chances, ultimately seeing out the game to secure top spot and their place in the round of 16, while the Red Devils will face a nervy play-off.

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