With the new Premier League season less than a week away, the final preparations for the new campaign are being made, and new Manchester United manager José Mourinho will be setting his sights on hitting the ground running against Bournemouth on Sunday (14 August).
So with that in mind, we are going to take a look at just how prepared United are for the new season by analysing how strong the current squad is. Each day this week we’ll look at a different section of the squad, starting with goalkeepers before moving on to defenders, midfielders, attacking midfielders and strikers, giving each a grade based on quality and depth.
Disclaimer: you may see some overlapping, with certain versatile players being listed in multiple categories; for example, Daley Blind may appear as both a defender and a midfielder, or Wayne Rooney as both an attacking midfielder and a striker.
Now, the transfer window is still open for another three weeks or so, so there is still time for Mourinho to strengthen certain areas. But the season is about to start, so it’s more than fair to look at the current squad as what should be a pretty close representation of United for 2016-17.
The most logical position to start with is that of goalkeeper.
Goalkeepers: David de Gea, Sergio Romero, Sam Johnstone
It seems very much like the above trio will be the first-team goalkeepers for the new season, especially now Victor Valdes has left the club.
A year ago, we could not say with any certainty whether de Gea would be a United player by September, amid persistent interest from Real Madrid. But we all know how that one ended, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted how much United stand to benefit from tying de Gea down long-term.
De Gea is easily the best goalkeeper in the league, and you can (and I do) make a strong argument that he is the best player in the world in his position.
For evidence of how important de Gea is to United, cast your mind back to the first month of last season. Louis van Gaal decided that de Gea was not in the right frame of mind to play while surrounded by speculation over a move to Madrid. Instead, Romero played, and United looked incredibly shaky at the back.
Romero made a few individual errors, but what was more starkly noticeable was how the entire back-four’s confidence completely evaporated without de Gea behind them. As soon as the Spaniard returned to the side, the defence looked an entirely different proposition, and all those thrilling one-nils ensued.
Over the last three years, not many United players could be considered worthy of the label "world-class" (however meaningless and arbitrary the term is). But by whatever metric you care to apply, de Gea is world-class. And, seeing as only one goalkeeper plays at a time, only a grade of A would be appropriate for this part of the United squad.
Better back-up options would have bumped the grade up into A+ territory, but Romero and Johnstone are serviceable stand-ins should they be needed.
Position grade: A
Check back tomorrow for an in-depth look at United’s defensive options.