Despite coming second to Manchester City a couple of seasons back, Man United took a huge tumble last season following a distinctly lacking summer of transfers under executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. But with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought in and a more exciting brand of football in play, there’s a renewed hope at Old Trafford that United can muscle their way back amongst the new elite teams of the Premier League.
Throughout last season and the season before, the squad had glaring holes all over the pitch. This summer, Woodward has done better than usual to patch these – but has it been enough to get the Red Devils back into the Champions League places?
Bolstered the defence
The defence has been Manchester United’s primary problem for many years, but since taking over as the man in charge of recruitment, Woodward has failed to supplement his managers with any real class or upgrade at the back. Last season, the heroic efforts of goalkeeper David de Gea finally weren’t enough, with the defensive frailties leading to an absurd 54 goals conceded.
Now, with the departure of veteran winger-turned-right-back and former captain Antonio Valencia, United have brought in emerging talent Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace. His Europe-dominating stat-sheet of last season will be welcomed at Old Trafford. At centre-back, even though many see that two top-class defenders are needed, the addition of Harry Maguire for a world-record fee for a defender will be a huge relief.
There are still, however, doubts about Manchester United’s credentials despite the massive upgrade in defence. Many Premier League tips fancy Maguire’s former club, Leicester City, at 7/2 to win the league minus the big six, with others going as far as to be a bit cheeky and put the Foxes at 7/1 to finish above United. With a stronger team and a full season of Solskjaer at the helm, United should be able to push on from last season’s tally of 66 points – five off of the top four.
Should more be done?
Manchester United’s new starting XI most probably reads something like this: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Smalling, Maguire, Shaw, Pereira, Matic, Pogba, Lingard, Martial, Rashford. On paper, it’s a decent team. Smalling has long been United’s only semi-competent centre-back and will benefit greatly from being alongside someone who can do the job. Pereira has shown a lot of promise once again this summer, adding to his physical capacity to compliment his sheer talent on the ball.
There are, however, questions concerning the depth of the team. Depth is what ultimately leads to success as injuries and fatigue will always make a mark on a campaign. The primary areas of concern for depth are across the backline and up top, which will be major factors for the Premier League predictions that are taking 8/11 for Manchester United to not finish in the top four.
United are fully expected to sell Romelu Lukaku to a big Serie A club before the end of the European transfer window, which closes after the Premier League window, leaving youngster Mason Greenwood as the direct cover for Marcus Rashford. He’s showcased his talent, but with a mere four appearances in professional adult football, the teen is certainly a wild card.
In defence, the hope will be that Axel Tuanzebe can step up in a rotation role and perhaps challenge for a place alongside Maguire after a strong season on loan with Aston Villa last season. Without consistency or 90 minutes of concentration being demonstrated by any of the other four potential centre-backs, a lot is riding on Tuanzebe if he’s trusted in the role at 21-years-old.
When fully fit, and in-form, the starting XI of Manchester United could push closer for a top-four place. However, with such a shallow team – in terms of talent, not numbers, relative to other top teams – it’s difficult to tote the former league champions as challengers for a Champions League place with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Manchester City coming in strong as well as Chelsea boasting a good team even without Eden Hazard.