Toni Kroos was sent off in a 1-1 draw against lowly Girona as Real Madrid returned to the top of the table but dropped LaLiga points for only the second time this season.

Vinicius Junior's ninth goal of the season with just over 20 minutes of normal time remaining put Los Blancos in front at the Santiago Bernabeu.

That was not enough to secure the victory, though, as Marco Asensio was penalised for handball following a VAR check and Cristhian Stuani converted from the spot in the 80th minute.

Rodrygo had a late goal disallowed and Kroos was sent off for a second bookable offence as Los Blancos had to settle for a result that inched them a point above Barcelona at the summit, while Girona are out of the relegation zone.

Luka Modric shot wide in the second minute on his return from injury before Valentin Castellanos fired an early warning shot at the other end, drilling narrowly off target.

Rodrygo let fly with a rasping right-foot drive that was superbly tipped wide by Paulo Gazzaniga, but Girona continued to look dangerous and a header from captain Valery Fernandez flashed just past the left post.

A strike from Madrid forward Rodrygo rattled the right post and Yangel Herrera's left-foot effort for Girona crashed against the crossbar after Fernandez outmuscled Dani Carvajal.

There was a flashpoint early in the second half when David Lopez was perhaps fortune to only be shown a yellow card for a clash with Vinicius, who went down claiming the Girona defender headbutted him.

It was Vinicius who made the breakthrough in the 70th minute, Federico Valverde spinning away from a defender and giving the forward a tap-in from inside the six-yard box.

Gazzaniga brilliantly palmed Asensio's powerful strike against the bar soon after that opening goal, before the Madrid winger was adjudged to have handled in the box following a VAR check.

Stuani sent Thibaut Courtois the wrong way with a superb spot-kick, and there was more drama when Rodrygo found the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out as Gazzaniga had a hand on the ball when the striker poked it past him.

Kroos was then dismissed for a second bookable offence after a cynical stoppage-time foul as Madrid slipped up.

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka was forced off with injury against Nottingham Forest, adding to England's fitness concerns ahead of the World Cup.

Saka created Gabriel Martinelli's fifth-minute opener on Sunday at Emirates Stadium, becoming the third-youngest player to 20 Premier League assists (aged 21 years and 55 days).

The England international appeared in some discomfort in the 15th minute, though, requiring medical treatment after what seemed to be a left-ankle injury following a challenge from Renan Lodi.

Saka attempted to continue but again went down after 26 minutes, with Mikel Arteta withdrawing the winger with Reiss Nelson replacing him.

England will be hopeful the injury to Saka proves not to be too serious, with their World Cup opener against Iran set for November 21.

With Reece James, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips all battling injuries, Gareth Southgate will hope Saka has just suffered a knock and not a serious setback.

Alvaro Morata is a doubt for Atletico Madrid's Champions League clash with Porto after suffering an ankle injury early in Saturday's defeat at Cadiz.

The Spain striker looked in great discomfort when he was replaced by Matheus Cunha just 10 minutes into Atleti's 3-2 LaLiga loss.

Morata underwent tests on Sunday, which revealed he has not sustained serious damage to his right ankle.

Atleti will monitor Morata ahead of a final Group B clash with Porto on Tuesday, when they will attempt to secure a Europa League spot after failing to qualify for the round of 16 of Europe's premier club competition.

"Alvaro Morata suffers from soft tissue edema in his ankle, according to the medical tests which he underwent this Sunday morning," Atleti stated.

"The Spanish international striker was substituted after 10 minutes of play in the game that we played this Saturday in Cadiz and the evolution of his discomfort will determine his incorporation into the group."

Diego Simeone's side were unbeaten in six games before slipping up at lowly Cadiz.

Marcus Rashford says Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is "a joy to work with."

Ten Hag succeeded interim manager Ralf Rangnick at Old Trafford at the end of last season, and although there have been several bumps in the road, including a humbling 6-3 derby defeat to Manchester City a humiliating 4-0 loss at Brentford, United seem to be on an upward trajectory under the Dutchman.

The Red Devils have taken eight points from the last 12 on offer in the Premier League, including beating Tottenham 2-0 in convincing fashion and snatching a draw at Chelsea last weekend.

West Ham visit Old Trafford on Sunday, with a victory enough to see Ten Hag's side leapfrog Chelsea into fifth place.

United's leading scorer with six goals from 14 appearances, Rashford has also contributed three assists after being given a new lease of life under former Ajax boss Ten Hag.

Rashford has put his return to form and renewed confidence down to Ten Hag, with the attacker – who turns 25 on Monday – telling Sky Sports: "The manager's a joy to work with, really.

"Is it hard work? Yeah, but I think we are enjoying it and we're playing better football."

 

With the World Cup in Qatar approaching, Rashford – who has not featured for England since missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out defeat to Italy in July 2021 – will be hoping his form will earn him a place in Gareth Southgate's selection.

"I feel like I'm getting there [close to his best form]," he said. "But, yeah, I'm a lot happier, I'm enjoying myself a lot more."

Rashford believes the character shown by United in their late comeback against Chelsea proves the work Ten Hag has done is paying off.

"Everyone's up for it, everyone's up for the challenge, up for the fight. For me, the epitome of that was the Chelsea game," he added. "We conceded late on and we still had the courage and the determination to score again late on.

"We were disappointed with the draw, but when you look at the wider scheme of things it's great character. We know that we've got it but to show it is another thing.

"I think it's a little bit of everything, but it's definitely something that you have to build.

"We've had some new signings come in and we've just managed to make it work and build that team spirit as quickly as we did.

"I feel like the players have integrated well and we're learning about each other more and more."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is known to be desperate for Lionel Messi to finish his career at his long-time club.

The 35-year-old Argentine forward departed Camp Nou hastily in August last year due to Barcelona's financial issues.

Messi joined the Blaugrana in 2000 and had an association with the club for more than two decades, scoring 672 goals across 778 first-team appearances.


TOP STORY – LAPORTA PLOTTING JANUARY MOVE FOR MESSI

Laporta is planning a move for Barcelona club legend Lionel Messi in the January transfer window, according to Sport.

The report states that Barcelona want to take advantage of the Fair Play situation in January, rather than wait for the off-season where the 1/4 rule will make any move more difficult.

However, Laporta's plan is full of obstacles for the Blaugrana to overcome, not least LaLiga's financial restraints, along with convincing Messi and his current club Paris Saint-Germain to part midway through the season.

Messi has publicly said he has deferred any decisions on his club or international future until after the World Cup.


ROUND-UP

– Sporting CP head coach Ruben Amorim may have distanced the club from links with Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo in midweek but The Mirror reports that the Portuguese club will make a bid for him in January.

– Brighton and Hove Albion are open to selling Moises Caicedo amid interest from Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle United but have slapped a £85m price tag on the 20-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder, reports the Sunday Mirror.

– The Express claims that Arsenal are leading the race ahead of Manchester United to sign Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans. The Belgian could move to the Gunners for free, as he is out of contract at the end of the season and unlikely to pen a new deal.

– Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante - whose contract is also up at the end of June 2023 - is a major target for Barcelona who are looking at replacements for veteran Sergio Busquets, reports Relevo.

– Sport claims Barcelona are looking to offload Memphis Depay in January, with Juventus interested in signing the Dutch attacker.

Wolves are set to approach ex-Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui again, having failed to convince him previously to become their new manager, claims The Sun.

Simone Inzaghi labelled Inter's October "almost perfect" after they cruised to a 3-0 Serie A win over Sampdoria.

Inter made it seven games without defeat in all competitions, of which they have won six, with a routine victory at San Siro.

Stefan de Vrij, Nicolo Barella and Joaquin Correa found the net to seal the points for Inter, whose next domestic assignment is a Derby d'Italia visit to Juventus.

And Inzaghi is delighted with the form in which they will approach that crucial fixture.

"The team is in good shape, feels confident, is putting together convincing victories, but we must continue," Inzaghi told Sky Sport Italia.

"We saw nobody is slowing down in Serie A, but our October was almost perfect.

"I really enjoy watching this team play. We have the right shape, we know what we want to do, I’m bringing back players who had been injured, we’re still missing [Marcelo] Brozovic.

"When a coach has options to choose from, that is always good.”

Inter are fifth, eight points adrift of leaders Napoli, and Inzaghi suggested it is too early in the season to know whether they can bridge that gap and challenge to regain the Scudetto.

"We need to check the fixture list from here to the break for the World Cup, there are some tough games, but having said that it's early days in the season," added Inzaghi.

"We made mistakes, the others are all going at a great pace, we've also got Bayern Munich coming up on Tuesday [in the Champions League] and need to put in a strong performance."

Xavi believes Barcelona "played with anxiety" at Valencia but "never stopped believing" as Robert Lewandowski struck an injury-time winner at Mestalla.

A tight contest looked to be petering out to a goalless draw when Lewandowski got on the end of a Raphinha cross into the box to divert in a vital goal to bring a smile to Barca after an unhappy few days.

After being eliminated from the Champions League group stage for the second season running prior to losing 3-0 at home to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the Blaugrana were searching for a morale-boosting win in Valencia.

Speaking after the game, head coach Xavi outlined how much the last week impacted his side's performance, saying: "It was a very important victory. Almost in the last second. We never stopped believing.

"We played with anxiety, the Champions League affected us. Wednesday weighed on us. We suffered. After three quarters [of the game] it became difficult. The decision-making was bad, the result of anxiety.

"We were better than Valencia and we deserved the victory. It wasn't an excellent game, we weren't inspired, but it's vital [the win]."

 

The 93rd-minute goal from Lewandowski was his 13th of the season, putting him six ahead of his nearest challengers – Real Betis' Borja Iglesias and Espanyol's Joselu (both on seven goals) – in the race for the Pichichi.

"The goal is of quality," Xavi said. "Robert is here to make a difference. I thought it might have been offside, because of the dynamics we had.

"But we have to improve. We have to make better decisions. It could have been a tie and it would be a drama, and it shouldn't be like that. We've improved a lot, we're on the way."

The win puts Barca top of LaLiga ahead of Real Madrid's game at home to Girona on Sunday, but Xavi still believes it is important to put pressure on their great rivals in the race for the title.

"It's very important for the team, we deserved it," he added. "We made an effort, we worked hard and the reward is important. We sleep as leaders, and we want to put pressure on Real Madrid."

Robert Lewandowski's stoppage-time goal earned Barcelona a morale-boosting 1-0 over Valencia at Mestalla on Saturday.

Both teams had efforts disallowed and also lost players to injury in a game that had otherwise been low on incidents.

That was until Lewandowski popped up to score a 93rd-minute winner, taking Barca back to the top of LaLiga – albeit Real Madrid do not face Girona until Sunday.

Valencia boss Gennaro Gattuso will be disappointed not to have taken something after an impressive defensive effort from his team, only to suffer late heartbreak.

It looked like Ansu Fati was set to give the visitors the lead in the 13th minute when he was played in on goal by Pedri, but Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili raced out and saved the 19-year-old's effort with his face, while Fati did have the ball in the net 10 minutes later only to see it ruled out for offside.

It was a costly first half as both teams lost players to injury, with Los Che striker Edinson Cavani and Barca centre-back Eric Garcia both being substituted, before Robert Lewandowski hit the post with a header from a Jordi Alba cross.

The hosts thought they had gone ahead just four minutes into the second half when Thierry Correia's cross from the right was directed in by Samuel Lino, but the video assistant referee overturned it after replays showed Marcos Andre had, for reasons only known to himself, handled the ball before it reached Lino.

Substitutes Ferran Torres and Raphinha made a mess of a promising situation with five minutes remaining as Pedri's cut-back was scuffed at close range by the former, before the latter somehow volleyed the loose ball over the bar.

But, with just three minutes of injury time remaining, Raphinha made amends as he lifted a ball into the box for the otherwise quiet Lewandowski to expertly divert into the corner of the net with the outside of his right boot to win it for Barca.

Nicolo Barella maintained his impressive goalscoring form as Inter eased to a 3-0 victory over Sampdoria on Saturday to make it four Serie A wins in a row.

Simone Inzaghi's side have put their early-season struggles behind them with this their seventh match without defeat in all competitions, six of those ending in victory.

Midfielder Barella rounded off a route-one move to double Inter's advantage at San Siro before half-time after Stefan de Vrij had opened the scoring with a header.

Inter, who brought on Romelu Lukaku for his first league appearance since August, added another goal through a superb Joaquin Correa solo effort to seal an emphatic victory.

De Vrij sent a bullet header past Emil Audero with 22 minutes played for his first goal of the season after being picked out by Hakan Calhanoglu from a corner.

Inter continued to dominate and had a second goal just before the interval when Barella controlled a long pass from Alessandro Bastoni and powered a shot past Audero.

Inzaghi introduced the returning Lukaku and Correa in the second half and it took the latter just five minutes to add his name to the scoresheet against his former side.

Argentina international Correa carried the ball from one penalty area to the other and curled in a third goal for the hosts to round off the scoring.

Massimiliano Allegri hailed Nicolo Fagioli's "great quality" after the young Juventus midfielder hit a stunning goal to earn a 1-0 victory at Lecce.

If head coach Allegri was feeling mounting pressure during a tense, largely drab game at the Stadio Via del Mare, that was lifted at least briefly when substitute Fagioli whipped a brilliant strike past Wladimiro Falcone.

The 73rd-minute winner means Juventus have strung together three consecutive victories and clean sheets in Serie A for the first time since February 2021. 

Those wins have come against Torino, Empoli and Lecce, rather than the elite, but with Juventus mired in injury trouble any win is welcome just now as they cling to top-four aspirations.

They are heading out of the Champions League and may even fall short of parachuting into the Europa League, with Allegri's second season of his second spell in charge not going to plan.

Yet amid the gloom, a new hero emerged. Fagioli became the first player born in 2001 onwards to score for Juventus in Serie A, with the 21-year-old settling a game that would otherwise not have lived long in the memory.

Indeed, the total expected goals (xG) tally for Saturday's game was just 0.81, taking both teams into account.

The xG metric considers the quality of a team's chances and their likelihood of scoring, and this combined tally was the lowest of all matches so far in Serie A this season.

For the winner, Samuel Iling had been on the field for just 41 seconds when he fed a short pass to the roving Fagioli, who turned sharply and fired from the left of goal into the top far corner.

"Nicolo has great quality," Allegri told DAZN. "His path was particular. He was a bit bastardised in the role, and he still has to learn to play in front of the defence because he never did it, but Iling was also very good in assisting. All the guys were good."

Juventus are missing a string of stars due to injury, including Dusan Vlahovic, Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa, and it was a much-weakened side that faced Lecce, Allegri deploying more youngsters than is ideal.

Fagioli came on for the start of the second half in place of Weston McKennie, who had been poor before the break.

"The idea was to send Fagioli to the pitch during the game when their intensity dropped," Allegri said. "In football and in life you get up. Everything can not always go wrong, nor always is everything well.

"And just when things go wrong you have to be mentally strong and be good at weathering the storm. Healthy madness must always be maintained, only rationality does not make its way."

Home captain Morten Hjulmand hit the foot of the left post in the closing moments with a skidding shot from 20 yards, Lecce's best effort of the game in which they failed to put a shot on target.

The result will come as a relief to all involved at Juventus, including vice-president Pavel Nedved, who said ahead of the game that Allegri continues to have the club's full support.

Italian media have speculated Juventus could look to bring Antonio Conte back to the club at the end of the season, when his Tottenham contract expires.

However, Nedved offered some reassurance regarding the board's backing, telling DAZN before kick-off: "Our position does not change: Allegri has the full confidence of the club and of the players themselves.

"I think it is normal that when the results do not arrive many names come up and many others will come out, but I repeat our position does not change."

Christophe Galtier admits Paris Saint-Germain are lacking balance and cannot rely on their superstar forwards to bail them out after scraping a 4-3 victory over Troyes.

The reigning Ligue 1 champions twice trailed to goals from Mama Balde, either side of Carlos Soler's leveller, in Saturday's clash at the Parc des Princes.

But Lionel Messi scored a superb equaliser and then played in Neymar to put PSG ahead for the first time, before Kylian Mbappe emphatically converted from the penalty spot.

There was still time for Ante Palaversa to pull one back, making Troyes the first side to score three or more goals at PSG in the league since Bordeaux in February 2020.

Rather than showing pride in PSG's ability to fight back and move five points clear at the summit, Galtier criticised the defensive performance of his side.

"The team was very unbalanced from the start," Galtier told Amazon Prime. "Some players had trouble finding their levels.

"We won very few balls high up the pitch and lost too many duels. On a defensive level, we made far too many mistakes and again conceded from a set-piece.

"This is something we have to spend time on to fix, something we have to make work. If we have to score four goals to win each time, it's going to be complicated.

"We got ahead of ourselves because we succeeded on the offensive level, but we left ourselves completely open."

 

PSG have scored 54 goals in 19 games in all competitions this season, a tally only Bayern Munich (69 in 20) can better among teams across Europe's top five leagues.

However, having defeated Maccabi Haifa 7-2 in the Champions League in midweek, they have now conceded five goals in their past two matches.

Midfielder Marco Verratti accepts the Parisians have to tighten up at the back if they are to challenge for trophies on multiple fronts this season.

"We didn't defend well today. We cannot concede three goals at home," he said. "We have to find a better balance to our game."

The past 25 goals netted by PSG in all competitions have been either scored or assisted by Messi, Neymar and Mbappe in a run stretching back to September 3.

Galtier fielded all three of his superstar trio for the full match against Troyes – a decision the Frenchman defended after his side's 19th game without defeat since he took over.

"They had to stay on until the end if we were going to get the win," he said. "If the score had been different, with the team a few goals ahead, we could have managed it more.

"Plus, we know Neymar will not play on Wednesday [against Juventus] because of suspension. We knew today we would have to keep our attacking power to score goals."

Nicolo Fagioli lit up a drab game with a classy winner for Juventus as Massimiliano Allegri's team scrambled a 1-0 victory at Lecce on Saturday.

The substitute made the breakthrough in the 73rd minute, turning in the penalty area after a short pass from the left flank by Samuel Iling before curling an exquisite shot in off the far post.

Juventus had all the pressure leading up to that, but they rarely threatened a breakthrough, with an injury-hit team playing with little confidence.

Amid their Champions League group-stage failure, this result, however scrappily it was obtained, gives Juventus a third successive win and clean sheet in Serie A.

The quality was poor in the opening half hour, but the tackles were thunderous at times, with four early bookings for the Juventus quartet of Juan Cuadrado, Federico Gatti, Arkadiusz Milik and Fabio Miretti.

Cuadrado, captaining the injury-weakened visitors, slashed a cross-shot well wide, before Adrien Rabiot's ambitious 30-yard attempt in the 32nd minute fizzed along the turf into the grateful arms of Wladimiro Falcone.

Rabiot had the best chance of the half in the 43rd minute, with his powerful header from Filip Kostic's left-wing corner pushed aside by Falcone, whose goal was coming under a growing threat.

Lecce, having won just four of their previous 32 Serie A matches against Juventus, carried next to no threat before the interval and last season's Serie B champions were almost behind early in the second half when Gatti's header from a free-kick nearly gave Milik a tap-in.

It was a game that was almost interesting, nearly distracting. A flick from Milik was gathered by Falcone as Cuadrado closed in, then Milik had a low shot from 20 yards that the goalkeeper had to dive to palm away.

Juventus substitute Moise Kean headed meekly wide when he should probably have scored, and Gatti nodded over, before Fagioli, on since the start of the second half, made his decisive contribution.

Lecce captain Morten Hjulmand hit the post with a skidding shot in the 89th minute as the visitors clung on.

Julian Nagelsmann is finding his Bayern Munich side "fun to watch" after they hammered Mainz 6-2 to go top of the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The ruthless Bavarian giants extended their winning streak to six matches by putting Mainz to the sword at the Allianz Arena following a 3-0 midweek victory at Barcelona in the Champions League.

Bayern had six different goalscorers for only the third time in a Bundesliga match, with Mainz the opponents in two of those games, the other occasion being in August 2019.

Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and Sadio Mane were on target in a first half that ended with Silvan Widmer pulling a goal back just after Sven Ulreich saved a Jonathan Burkardt penalty.

Leon Goretzka, Mathys Tel and the in-form Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were on target in the second half, with Marcus Ingvartsen scoring Mainz's second goal after a mistake from Ulrich.

That is now a staggering 39 goals Bayern have scored in a nine-match unbeaten run, moving them above Union Berlin at the summit, and head coach Nagelsmann is lapping up the entertainment.

He said: "I think we had difficult five to 10 minutes at the beginning of the first and second half. Otherwise we did really well.

"Big compliment to the team for performing this way every three days. It's fun to watch – a mix of quality and attitude. Compliments to my players."

Mane and Musiala caused Mainz all sort of problems as Bayern came forward with wave after wave of attacks.

Nagelsmann praised big-money signing Mane, who has already scored 11 goals in his first season for the club.

He said: "I'm happy with Sadio Mane's performance. The development of the past two weeks was good because of his position.

"He plays more on the wing where he played at Liverpool. He did well today, like he did in Barcelona and hopefully will continue this way."

Jamaica Reggae Girlz head coach Lorne Donaldson is eager to see what the team’s new recruits and returning members will offer to the unit ahead of a pair of friendlies against Paraguay next month.

On Wednesday, the Jamaica Football Federation named a 26-player squad, which featured many of the usual suspects.  Also, among, however, was former national team captain Konya Plummer, Shania Hayles who are returning to the squad and young player Zoe Matthews.

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup on the horizon for next year Donaldson remains in the process of shifting through his options to find the best team.  The return of Plummer, a solid defender who returns to the team from maternity leave and Matthews a solid new prospect should give the coach plenty to think about.

“We have a couple players coming back in like Konya and Shaina who just came back off maternity.  Shaina is far ahead of Konya, we know most likely they’ll be a part of what we are trying to do in the future, so we just brought them in to get familiar with things,” Donaldson said.

“We also have Zoe Matthews a young player, an upcoming player, a Bunny Shaw type of player. I hate to mention that but she’s built like bunny and she has that kind of ability.  So, if we can get her in the fold that would be great,” he added.

Another promising young player that has been included is Shaneil Buckley who has dominated the country’s high school football league.

Whenever Manchester United come up against a team managed by David Moyes, it provides the perfect opportunity to look back on the Red Devils' rather turbulent recent history.

Moyes was, of course, the original successor to Alex Ferguson. The 'Chosen One', as the infamous banner read, and, to many, a harbinger of mediocrity.

That's slightly unfair on Moyes as although United won the title just before he ascended the Old Trafford hot seat, he was left with an aging squad that needed replenishing, plus the club's deep reverence for Ferguson ultimately stopped them moving with the times.

For years, Ferguson essentially operated as a head coach, recruitment director and sporting director rolled into one. The Scot was so effective and influential that, once he'd left, United were suddenly unprepared to meaningfully challenge the best teams.

This past year has arguably seen that gap reach its widest point in the Premier League era, with United posting their worst points total (58) since the competition's foundation in 1992 last season.

But in Erik ten Hag, United might finally have the right manager at the right time.

The succession

While United's woes of the short-lived Moyes era weren't just down to him, nothing over the past eight years has suggested the club was wrong to get rid of him in 2014.

Nevertheless, Moyes and every other post-Ferguson United manager had their strengths.

Moyes had an intimate knowledge of the league; Louis van Gaal brought a defined 'philosophy' and vast experience; Jose Mourinho had the name recognition and a track record of winning trophies; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already deified by supporters and his management style allowed players to be more expressive than under his pragmatic predecessor; Ralf Rangnick came in with 'club-building' expertise at a time when United's structure was spoken about as their biggest area of concern.

But none of them ever looked likely to be a long-term success for United. Obviously that was the hope for Moyes when he signed his five-year contract, though it quickly became apparent his personality was at odds with much of the team and his lack of tactical imagination made the side predictable, boring and ineffective.

Van Gaal did at least try to put a modern stamp on United, with his possession-based approach initially lauded upon his arrival after presiding over a fine World Cup campaign with the Netherlands. But again, the football was tedious to watch, with the Red Devils often accused of keeping possession for possession's sake rather than being able to work openings.

He's since been very critical of how United are run, perhaps casting light on why he was never quite right – maybe he would've been if there was a credible recruitment structure in place, but there wasn't.

Mourinho might argue recruitment issues were behind his downfall as well. Certainly, if you believe the media reports, United routinely missed out on players considered to be his primary targets.

But fans called his exit two years in advance. The prediction was that he'd be in charge for two seasons and then get the boot in his third, which of course came to pass.

Solskjaer arguably got the most freedom to build a team in his image, which was ironic given he was by far the least experienced of the managers to arrive after Ferguson. Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho were all desired by the Norwegian and they duly arrived, but the manager's coaching methods were widely derided from outside the club with few players appearing to improve under his tutelage.

Then the Rangnick-led rebuild ended up being a red herring. Results and performances weren't much better than under Solskjaer, and while his honest appraisals of the club's structure were appreciated by fans, the hierarchy clearly felt differently and swiftly ended his two-year consultancy shortly after Ten Hag's appointment.

Ten Hag's impact

So, what's changed?

Well, in reality we're obviously only going to really know how much United have changed in terms of the general running of the club a few years down the line.

They do at least now have a genuine sporting structure. Granted, it was questioned in pre-season when Ten Hag came in and immediately started demanding players he knew or had previously coached, but all pre-season signings have at least looked encouraging.

As for Ten Hag's management, there have been plenty of examples of him avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors.

Like Van Gaal, Ten Hag has looked to implement a more possession-focused style of play, but this United seem to be playing more on the front foot when out of possession than the LVG vintage.

And yet, Ten Hag's shown the sort of adaptability the likes of Solskjaer and Mourinho were accused of failing to embrace. He's already ditched the insistence on playing out from the back with David de Gea after the Spaniard's struggles in their first two games of the season, while the experiment of playing Christian Eriksen in defensive midfield didn't last long either.

But, arguably most important of all, Ten Hag's shown he's not shy about making tough calls. He dropped Luke Shaw and captain Harry Maguire after two games, and his exclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad to face Chelsea last weekend after the striker's refusal to come on against Tottenham was a real show of conviction and leadership.

Ronaldo was welcomed back into the starting XI against Sheriff on Thursday, though, evidence of Ten Hag finding the balance between authority and forgiveness, areas that Solskjaer, Mourinho and Rangnick all seemed to fall short in in different ways.

Of course, results are key. While it's still too early to draw any major conclusions here because who's to say they don't lose every game between now and the World Cup, there have undoubtedly been positive signs with wins against the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham. Even the draw at Chelsea was morale-boosting.

Crucially, United need to give Ten Hag time. If Solskjaer can be given three years, Ten Hag surely needs at least that long as well.

The first few months of his reign have certainly suggested United are on the right track with their latest 'Chosen One'.

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