New era at Man United begins with a loss. Man City and Arsenal win to close gap to Liverpool

The week started at Manchester United with Jim Ratcliffe completing his purchase of a minority stake and setting out a three-year plan to return the club to the top of English soccer, knocking local rivals Manchester City and Liverpool “off their perch” in the process.

It ended with the team getting mostly outplayed in its own stadium by Fulham — an opponent in the bottom half of the Premier League — and beaten 2-1 to lose ground in the race for Champions League qualification.

Not only did sixth-place United’s four-game winning run in the league come to an end on Saturday, fourth-place Aston Villa beat Nottingham Forest 4-2. That left an eight-point gap between Villa and United after 26 of 38 games.

It remains to be seen if the Premier League will have four or five places in next season’s Champions League. Fifth-place Tottenham is three points ahead of United and has a game in hand.

Failing to qualify for the lucrative competition will be a huge blow to United’s status, not to mention its finances. It could also spell the end for United manager Erik ten Hag as Ratcliffe looks to raise the standards at the fallen giant.

Dave Brailsford, the sporting director of Ratcliffe-owned INEOS and now on United’s board, was in the directors’ box at Old Trafford to see the team concede the deciding goal on a counterattack in the seventh minute of stoppage time. Alex Iwobi tucked home the finish, sealing Fulham’s first win at Old Trafford since 2003, with United’s players having poured forward seeking a winner after Harry Maguire’s equalizer in the 89th.

“After one defeat, you have to see the bigger picture,” Ten Hag said, “and the bigger picture looks very good.”

Douglas Luiz scored two of Villa’s goals, with Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey also netting in its first home win of 2024. One of the three defeats at Villa Park this year came at the hands of United.

“If we arrive to game 33 in the same position, we maybe look to Champions League,” Villa manager Unai Emery said. “For now it is about being in the top seven positions.


With first-place Liverpool not playing in the Premier League this round because of its involvement in the English League Cup final on Sunday, title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal had a chance to trim the gap to the leaders.

They both took it — and now the top three are separated by just two points.

Second-place City moved one point behind Liverpool by beating Bournemouth 1-0 away, with Phil Foden grabbing the 24th-minute winner from a rebound after Erling Haaland had a shot parried out.

It was Foden’s 16th goal of the season in all competitions, already tying the England forward’s most in a single season.

“Phil Foden is playing the best football I have seen from him,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who described his players as “supermen” for coping with a demanding schedule.

“We demand too much of our players but they respond. I know people say, ‘They earn a lot of money,’ but it is too much, honestly. But business must go on and it surprises me every time how we are still there.”

Arsenal responded to City’s result by dominating Newcastle a few hours later, winning 4-1 at Emirates Stadium to stay a point behind City.

An own-goal by Sven Botman was followed by strikes by Kai Havertz and Bukayo Saka, before Jakub Kiwior glanced in a header for the fourth. Joe Willock, a former Arsenal player, scored an 85th-minute consolation for Newcastle.


Relegation-threatened Everton conceded an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time to draw 1-1 at Brighton. A victory would have pushed Everton three points clear of the bottom three and ended an eight-match winless run in the league.

Instead, Lewis Dunk headed in Pascal Gross’ cross to cancel out Jarrad Branthwaite’s opener for Everton at Amex Stadium.

Newly hired Crystal Palace manager Oliver Glasner ’s tenure got off to strong start as his team beat next-to-last Burnley 3-0.


Steve Douglas is at


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