Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with coaching staff celebrate with the trophy after winning the Carabao Cup REUTERS/Tony Obrien/File Photo
(Reuters) - After Erik ten Hag's first season in charge delivered an upturn in fortunes for Manchester United, there is a genuine sense of optimism around England's most successful club for the first time in a decade.
Since United last won the Premier League title under Alex Ferguson in 2013, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have all failed to revive former glories - but Ten Hag appears to be making progress.
Last year, he took charge of a United side that had collected their lowest-ever Premier League points tally (58) in the 2021-22 season and were in a five-year trophy drought.
The former Ajax manager has built a team centred around big personalities like Bruno Fernandes, Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro, which is direct in attack and works tirelessly off the ball.
The turnaround has been remarkable, with a top-four finish in the Premier League, the League Cup trophy and a place in the FA Cup final to show for last season.
There were serious blips, however, with heavy defeats at Liverpool, Brentford, Manchester City and Sevilla, and weaknesses exposed by those capitulations have been addressed during the transfer window.
England's Mason Mount has been drafted in to give United more options in midfield while Andre Onana is a strong replacement at goalkeeper for the increasingly error-prone David de Gea.
United's search for a striker also appears to be at an end, with British media reporting that an agreement has been reached with Atalanta over young Dane Rasmus Hojlund.
"I think the difference is, with reference to last year, now we have the foundation with this squad," Ten Hag told reporters.
"Because we built the foundation last season. So (we built) the squad, the way of play, and now we have to find the right players to fit in and to raise the bar."
United have done well to tie striker Marcus Rashford down to a long-term contract after a stellar campaign in which he scored 30 goals across all competitions.
However, despite cause for cheer on the pitch, the club's protracted takeover talks have cast a long shadow over the season.
United's U.S. owners in November announced that they were considering selling the club, but nearly nine months later a deal appears no closer - with British media reporting that takeover talks have paused in recent weeks.
A change at the helm, especially in the middle of the season, may have damaging consequences, as evidenced by Chelsea's dire campaign under new ownership.
In Ten Hag, however, United have a manager who has proved to be adept at handling off-field distractions, earning praise for the tact he displayed in dealing with Cristiano Ronaldo's discipline issues last year.
He has also shown a readiness to make tough decisions, stripping defender Harry Maguire of the team captaincy and dropping Rashford in a 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in December for disciplinary reasons.
If Ten Hag can stop the uncertainty over the club's ownership from spilling over into his dressing room, United have reason to believe they can challenge seriously to win the Premier League and end the recent dominance of Manchester City.