Manchester United wrap up preseason this weekend in Cardiff against AC Milan. Winners of their first five summer friendlies, the Reds surely hope to cap off a 100% preseason with another victory on Saturday. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) United stayed perfect in preseason with a 1-0 win over Kristiansund in midweek. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side only pulled past the stubborn hosts with a Juan Mata penalty in second-half stoppage time. The scoreline hardly impressed, but the Reds spent most of the match well on top and thoroughly deserved the result.
(2) Aaron Wan-Bissaka continued his strong start in red with another fine performance. The Spider’s defensive prowess is practically the stuff of legend at this point, but he’s also shown an aptitude for taking the ball into dangerous positions and linking up with the right-sided player in front of him. On Tuesday, that was fellow new boy Daniel James.
(3) So far, those two remain the only additions to Solskjaer’s squad this summer. Despite a lot of big talk about sweeping changes after the disappointment of last season, the ruthless cull of underperforming players that was promised hasn’t quite materialized. Rumors persist about Harry Maguire, Paulo Dybala, Bruno Fernandes, et al., but who really knows anymore? “We’re working on one or two cases,” Ole said after the Kristiansund win. “It’s ten days before we start the league and hopefully we can announce a fresh face or two.”
(4) Unfortunately, the Eric Bailly situation turned out to be far worse than first thought. Although initial reports tipped the Ivorian to miss only six weeks or so, he will actually be out for at least four months after undergoing a knee procedure. That’s nothing new for Bailly, who saw last season (and his Africa Cup of Nations) cut short by a similar problem.
(5) Other injury issues: Paul Pogba missed most of the Kristiansund match with a back injury, but should return to the starting XI this weekend for a final preseason tuneup. Romelu Lukaku might also be ready for training, after sitting out all five preseason matches with an ankle knock. Most think that Lukaku’s absence has been transfer-related, but he needs some minutes under his belt whether he’s headed to Juve or staying put.
(6) With Pogba out on Tuesday, Scott McTominay seized his chance at the base of midfield and surely gave Ole something to think about. After an impressive finish to last season, McTominay could be an option to spell Nemanja Matić on occasion, both easing the youngster into a bigger role and keeping the aging midfielder as fresh as possible.
(7) With two International Champions Cup matches in the books, United still have a shot at silverware. Benfica sit atop the standings, already with three wins from three, but a lopsided Reds win this weekend could dislodge them from their perch. Benfica ended with +5 GD, which means that United must beat AC Milan by three goals to equal that mark. If United win 3-0, it gets a little crazy. The two sides would be even on goal difference, goals scored, and goals allowed. Happily, United would take the ICC crown because their result against the only common opponent — AC Milan — would be better than Benfica’s 1-0 victory. Okay, that’s a lot of words about a meaningless preseason tournament.
(8) The Premier League opener is fast approaching and the boss is still sorting through his lineup options. “We’ve got a strong squad and I feel there’s not too big a difference when we make the subs,” he said. “I’ve not really picked the first eleven yet, but most of the relationships we’ve tried. Milan will be another test and then let’s see how we decide. When Paul Pogba doesn’t start, you know it’s not the first eleven.”
(9) AC Milan’s ICC run hasn’t been as successful as Manchester United’s. Unlike the undefeated Reds, Milan lost their first two matches to Bayern Munich and Benfica, both by a 1-0 scoreline. To be fair, the Rossoneri are in a far different phase of their preseason prep, with Serie A kicking off two weeks after the Premier League.
(10) New manager Marco Giampaolo, who jumped ship from Sampdoria after a ninth-place finish last season, has his work cut out for him at the San Siro. Like United, AC Milan find themselves on the outside looking in at the Champions League in 2019/20, with the manager’s top priority to engineer an immediate return to Europe’s top table.
(11) The stay-or-go drama surrounding Suso won’t make Giampaolo’s job any easier. Milan will reportedly consider any offer above €30 million for the 25-year-old trequarista, but it’s hard to see how any sale would help the club on the pitch. Suso has impressed so far in preseason and should thrive under the new manager’s attacking system.