The new Premier League season is a few days away for Manchester United. The Reds may have left 19/20 empty handed but, in my humble opinion, created more than enough reason for optimism. Can United kick on from their three semi-final appearances and an impressive season-ending run to 3rd place? Lets dive in and really take stock on where we stand.
Despite an underwhelming transfer window (thus far) – filled with the perennial links to every Tom, Dick and Harry – United face Palace with a relatively small number of players ruled out. Axel Tuanzebe, who has been out since the start of June, is getting closer to a return to first team training and is expected to make a return in a few weeks. Paul Pogba, despite a return to training, looks unlikely to feature against Crystal Palace on Sep 19th. While the Frenchman would be a considerable loss for any team, the acquisition of Donny van de Beek provides a much needed example of depth. The Dutch international is an extremely smart piece of business and one that allows a variety of different compositions to be created in the centre of the field.
The arrival of Bruno Fernandes completely shifted the momentum at the club and fans are absolutely relishing the prospect of a full season with the Portuguese international pulling the strings in midfield. When you add Matic, Fred and young Scott McTominay to the mix, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has quietly assembled a midfield dynamic that has been sorely missing for many years.
When speaking about the quality in midfield, and the overall impact with such, it is impossible to move on without passing comment on the dynamic trio up front. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and the fantastic Mason Greenwood looked a class apart in 19/20 – particularly after the restart. Considering the continuation of the empty arenas, one can only wonder what sort of mental advantage this can carry: given the little statistic which saw United’s front three outscore that of Liverpool.
Much has been made of the defence. A season which saw David de Gea in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons and, as is the birthright of that of a red, every individual defensive error highlighted to the maximum, a rather tidy figure of 18 less GC may shift a few eyebrows. The acquisition of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka has undeniably provided a greater fortitude to the backline and, despite a moment or two which left a little more than a sense of frustration, has improved the fortunes of the team. It is also worthwhile noting Teden Mengi. 18 years of age: big, strong, fast and home grown. The manager has recently spoken publicly about his talents and also made a loose comparison to that of Ajax’s former captain – Matthijs de Ligt.
Solskaer told BBC Sport: “Ajax made Matthijs de Ligt captain when he was 18. Teden Mengi has impressed me, you can see something special in him. It is about picking the right moment to give him a chance.”
A familiar topic has been on the lips of every fan this summer and that is the apparent unwillingness of the board to back the manager. This is further amplified by the business being completed by the Blue part of London. Rumours of Jadon Sancho won’t go away and, should United capture his signature, the public perspective suddenly changes. An impressive international showing for Daniel James has once again captured the minds of the fans. Seeing the Welshman utilised down his favoured left side has provided a simple reminder as to what this boy can be capable of.
As touched upon above, our number 1 has never been under such scrutiny. The return of Dean Henderson has only intensified this and the battle for the starting birth has never been more interesting. Once again, when considering a certain Argentine, the club are overflowing with options.
Despite an impressive record against the top 6, and a tremendous job in lifting morale at the club, Solskjaer will still have work to do in dispelling the question marks about his suitability for the role. The Norwegian has come under considerable doubt with regard to his capabilities in changing the flow of a game and selecting the right man to come off of the bench. Despite this, one could easily draw note to the lack of weapons that he has had in his arsenal. As well as this, it did take Klopp several years to impose his tactical vision at Liverpool – announcing, upon his arrival, that he intended to deliver trophies within four years. The key ideal here is time and trust in a managers vision. Solskjær has earned this right to cultivate this.
Fans are hungry for a return to success and, with a bit of dip from the two stand out teams from the past two years, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that United could find themselves reducing the massive deficit of 33 points considerably. Solskaer speaks of a necessity to have a certain type of DNA within his squad. It is this very factor that can transform an under-performing group into world beaters. Klopp is renowned for his ability to get the very best out of a player. One need look no further than Jordan Henderson to see just what can be achieved with the right guidance. United’s squad is full of youth, speed and creativity. In Martial, the club look to have a proper #9 and one who has developed a dogged grit on the field. He’s supported by two of the countries finest front players and a midfield that is bursting with class.
With a clean bill of health, a solid start to the campaign and a bit of luck, we could be in for an enjoyable campaign. Onto Palace…