MANCHESTER – It has been a week to remember for Manchester United.
After an epic encounter with Barcelona and at least two takeover bids, a 3-0 win against Leicester on Sunday kept Erik ten Hag's team firmly in the race for the Premier League title.
It's fair to say there is a lot happening both on and off the field at a club that is entering the dawn of a new era.
With bids from Qatar and billionaire fan Jim Ratcliffe confirmed after Friday's deadline for initial offers, Old Trafford was already in a celebratory mood, with many fans eagerly anticipating the departure of unpopular current American owners, the Glazer family.
But Ten Hag is also giving them much to cheer with the impact he has had on a team that has gone 10 years since it last won the league title under iconic former manager Alex Ferguson.
No wonder that one leading fan group insisted before before kickoff that the Dutchman must be integral to any new owner's plans.
“After the frustrations of the last decade, it is clear that enormous strides are being taken,” United’s Supporters’ Trust said Sunday. “Any prospective bidder needs to explicitly commit to backing Erik and his plans to restore United to glory.”
Both Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and Ratcliffe have vowed to return United to its former glories and it is not yet known how many other bids were submitted to merchant bank Raine Group by the time of Friday’s deadline.
But Ten Hag is doing an impressive enough job of turning the club’s fortunes around even without the aid of new owners as his team remains in contention to win four trophies in his first season in charge.
The win against Leicester kept the pressure on Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of the table and Ten Hag says the takeover will not be allowed to become a distraction.
“We are committed with this club, it is our club, in our heart, but it is not our job (to talk about the sale),” he said. “We focus on football and perform and that is what the players and staff have to do.”
Whether Ten Hag likes it or not, the topic of United's next owner is not going away.
There were repeated chants of “We want Glazers out” during the Leicester match and one fan had a message of opposition to Sheikh Jassim, with a sign which simply read “No to Qatar”.
Qatar was criticized for its treatment of migrant workers in the buildup to hosting last year's World Cup and its human rights record.
After United's LGBTQ supporters’ group, the Rainbow Devils, raised “deep concern” about some bids, the Supporters' Trust added it noted “the importance that any owner respects the rights of all people, particularly women and the LGBTQ+ community.”
On the field, Ten Hag’s team is on a roll and faces a crunch week, which includes the second leg of the Europa League playoff against Barcelona at Old Trafford on Thursday and then the League Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley three days later.
The 2-2 draw with Barca at the Nou Camp was the latest indication that United is ready to challenge Europe’s elite again and the second leg was on Ten Hag's mind as he spoke to supporters on his way to the locker room after Leicester.
“I say come Thursday. It is a big game, make sure you are there and we beat Barcelona together,” he said afterward.
If Rashford continues his current run of form then there is every chance the fans will be celebrating again after that match.
The striker has scored 16 goals in his last 17 games and a career-best 24 for the season.
Jadon Sancho also showed signs that he is on the way back to top form by coming off the bench to seal the win that leaves United three points behind second-place Manchester City and five off leader Arsenal.
Not that Ten Hag was pleased with his team’s first-half performance, which saw Leicester twice come close to taking the lead before Rashford scored.
“We have to follow the rules and principles from our way of playing. When you don’t, it is getting a mess,” Ten Hag said. “When you face a good opponent like Leicester you will concede chances. It was only due to David de Gea that we don’t concede a goal. We were really lucky at halftime we were one goal up — great pass from Bruno (Fernandes), great finish from Rashy. But the rest is rubbish.”
FIGHT FOR TOP FOUR
Newcastle's recent slump is proving costly and Tottenham took full advantage on Sunday by moving up to fourth in the table.
It looks set to be a fierce contest for the last of the Champions League qualifying spots, but Spurs lead the way after Emerson Royal and Son Heung-min scored in a 2-0 win against West Ham.
The Londoners are now one point ahead of Newcastle, having played a game more.
Liverpool can also be considered serious contenders after beating Newcastle 2-0 on Saturday.
Newcastle has now failed to win any of its last four games in the league.
Liverpool, meanwhile, is seven points off Tottenham with two games in hand and looks to have its confidence back after a season of struggle.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports