Ole Gunnar Solskjær has seen the best and the worst from Manchester United since taking over from José Mourinho last season. Having had the summer to reflect on his team and further implement ideas in preseason, aided by his coaching staff, Solskjær will want an encouraging campaign showing signs of progress.
New signings to flourish
United have brought in three excellent players so far this summer. Two great prospects in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, both 21-year-olds. Then Harry Maguire, ready to go out of the box, with his best years ahead of him and contracted into his early 30s. All three players solve areas of need for United and, with experience of playing in England already, have every chance of thriving quickly.
We’re likely to see more of Wan-Bissaka than James this season. Wan-Bissaka joins following a full Premier League campaign with Crystal Palace, and there’s less competition for his place at right-back. James having to push for inclusion on the left-wing is no bad thing while still raw and stepping up from the Championship, and will be afforded the time to improve at United if required.
Maguire will be expected to lead the defence from day one. United must hope Maguire is unaffected by any chop during the course of the season, and instead inspires confidence throughout the team, especially when the tide’s against them. Any sight of Maguire looking hesitant or despondent at his new club and United have got big, big problems.
Mason Greenwood, Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, and James Garner all stand to get minutes in the first-team. United should offload one or two of their established backup centre-backs before sending Tuanzebe on loan. Greenwood is likely to feature most but, given the options in defence and especially midfield, his peers will also want to disrupt the pecking order in the squad.
Surprise in central midfield
United are short on quality in midfield even if they bring in another central midfielder. Question marks over Nemanja Matić’s usefulness and Paul Pogba’s commitment exacerbate problems further. Fred, for example, suddenly coming good for a period this season would be a timely boon. Though any late favour for Solskjær’s midfield is more likely to come via Tottenham’s famously charitable chairman than, say, Andreas Pereira.
Sparkling front three
Marcus Rashford and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Martial will be required to score lots of goals. If Romelu Lukaku isn’t replaced, the burden is greater still. Were Alexis Sánchez to clear the fog of his permanent state of funk, United would be grateful for the contribution. However, between Rashford, Martial, James and Greenwood, United have pace and trickery capable of terrorising defenders. Solskjær will want fluency from his forwards and to wield the fear at his opponents that if one doesn’t get you, the other one will.
Ruthlessness from Solskjær
Supporters are, largely, realistic on United’s prospects this season. Solskjær will hope that the board are minded to be patient too. The club has backed the manager to an extent thus far but, if players suspect that Solskjær is being undermined, unity amongst the team is going to be hard to foster. With a bloated squad, Solskjær will want unwavering support in leaving out any big names if he feels he has better options more committed to the cause. Progress for United won’t be found in pandering to stroppy players with inflated profiles. Solskjær has an edge underneath his persona to control these pressures, providing he’s given the platform to do so from his employers.