This weekend will see the Manchester United squad officially begin their preparations for the upcoming campaign – with a return to the United States of America. The importance of rebuilding fitness to get up to speed particularly on the back of one of the longest and most arduous campaigns in the club’s history cannot be overstated.
With the lack of new signings much to the manager’s chagrin and uncertainty around some of the existing members of the first team with short notice, it remains a mystery as to how effective the tour could turn out to be for Jose Mourinho and co this year, given the shambles last time around.
In this piece, I have looked at five players – who will likely be under the microscope, for a multitude of different reasons, as United look to tackle as many as seven sides including the first Manchester derby held outside of England, in the space of four weeks before taking on European Champions Real Madrid in Macedonia for the UEFA Super Cup in early August.
It is not hard to imagine why Lindelöf will be the absolute centre of attention. The 22-year old centre-back is United’s first and so far – only high-profile acquisition. Lindelöf, joining from Benfica has plied his trade for the Portuguese club in first team capacity for the last 18 months and is known for his qualities on the ball and eerie calmness in pressure situations which have earned him the nickname, ‘the Iceman’. An in-depth discussion on the Swedish international could be found here.
A full pre-season with the first team is essential for any newcomer and it could prove all the more important for a young and relatively inexperienced defender to utilise the opportunity to get used to his new colleagues and a highly charged environment.
The Brazilian youngster is no stranger to pre-season tours with the senior team at Manchester United. He’s been involved with the first team, albeit sporadically since his debut in that horrific 4-0 defeat at MK Dons in 2014/15. Following his 11 appearances under Louis van Gaal in his final season, Pereira was part of the tour in 2016 with Jose Mourinho and scored the first goal in the 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic in the opening game.
The attacking midfielder then went out on loan to Spanish side Granada and had his breakthrough season with the relegated outfit, scoring 5 goals in 37 appearances. With a year left on his contract and an option to extend it to another 12 months, this pre-season will be pivotal to the making of a future superstar at Manchester United.
Shaw has had a rough time at Manchester United since his big-money move from Southampton. Criticised for his lack of fitness as early as the summer of 2014, the left-back has yet to shrug off the string of injuries he has suffered including a serious double leg break in September 2015 that kept him out for almost a year.
Under a manager that once wanted to sign him for his boyhood club Chelsea, the fortunes did not improve a great deal. In fact, he was questioned in November for his lack of desire to play through the pain, which seemingly caused a rift between the pair of them. In April, the left back suffered an ankle ligament damage and was seen on crutches during the post-match celebrations in Stockholm.
But Portuguese is very much a fan of the player and it appears that Shaw is firmly in the plans of Mourinho for next season – where United will once again be competing in as many as five different competitions.
For Luke, still only 21, this pre-season Stateside is the new hope to finally resurrect his footballing career and realise his full potential.
Axel Tuanzebe finally got his debut with the first team under Jose Mourinho in the tail-end of the season. The 19-year old was awarded the Reserve Team Player of the Year for his consistently solid displays at the heart of the defence with the U23s.
An injury crisis at the back forced Mourinho’s hand to explore the depths of the squad but Axel Tuanzebe managed to impress the boss whilst he was given the opportunity to get involved with the first team in a variety of roles at the back and in midfield – against the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton.
The youngster was also included in the match-day squad as United picked up their fifth European silverware and reflected on the major strides he had made in a matter of weeks. He said,
“You don’t want it [the campaign] to stop as it might break the momentum or something but it’s been a tough season. We’ve had to grind out results and you always need a break to relax and put your feet up. But not for too long as you’re back into the swing of it. You have to start early and be prepared for pre-season because pre-season is not easy with this manager! That’s how you want it and you want to be strong coming into the season.”
Tuanzebe looks ready for the new season as he should be, with it providing him with the best chance to further strengthen his position at Manchester United.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s campaign was cut short like many of his colleagues, as the Dutch teenager endured an injury to his shoulder in the 0-0 draw at the Etihad, the final of his 10 appearances in 2016/17 in all competitions. Fosu Mensah was thrown into the deep end against Arsenal at Old Trafford at left-back but the youngster came through it as United won 3-2 on the day despite the absence of several key players.
Fosu Mensah is one of the few truly versatile players at Manchester United with the potential to feature across all positions in and midfield – with pace to burn and physicality to suit Mourinho’s requirements. He is popular as well in the dressing room and there is no doubt the pre-season tour in 2017 will be the making of him.