Surprise breakout of the season
BM: Angel Gomes is already too good for U-23 football. With his contract expiring next summer, sending him out on loan would be risky. Best deployed as an attacking midfielder, he would start the season nominally behind Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in the pecking order. He’s better than both. Gomes only needs to be given a chance to shine in a few appearances off the bench and one or two cup starts early in the season before fans are clamoring for him to be first-choice.
AT: It had better be Mason Greenwood, hadn’t it? Now that Lukaku’s gone to Milan, he’s effectively third-choice striker behind Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, and the latter’s probably going to spend a good amount of time on the left. No pressure, kid.
CD: I’m going to try and be confident and say Fred. He was anything but reliable last season, but when he did show flashes of greatness you could understand why clubs were after him last summer. He’ll likely play with more freedom than he was given under Mourinho, and ideally with the upgraded back four he’ll be under less pressure out of possession. United need someone to stand out in midfield after another abysmal transfer window, so Fred will certainly get the chance. Just hope he makes the best of it.
Worst player to line up next to Pogba in midfield
BM: Nemanja Matić was once one the most dominant midfielders in Europe. He’s now a clapped out has-been who has no business regularly playing Premier League football. The class is there, the legs are not. Given the importance of his position, and the quality of the alternatives (Fred? Yikes.) Matić is the biggest liability in the squad.
AT: Sure, there are many problems with Nemanja Matić. His performance levels, the standard of his football, how good he is at the game, all that. But he is, at least, technically a midfielder. Whereas Phil Jones, who will line-up in midfield for three crucial games over the Christmas crunch, is not a midfielder. He hasn’t even been a pretend midfielder for a long time now.
CD: Nemanja Matić, no question. His decline has been swift and brutal, and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.
Most inexplicable contract renewal
BM: Ed Woodward fancies himself a master negotiator. He thinks that Manchester United have been taken advantage of in the transfer market for far too long. He refuses to let another prized asset leave for cheap. Matteo Darmian 2025.
AT: If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer extends his contract in January, then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be sacked in March.
CD: Gonna go with Nemanja Matić again. Maybe just a short extension, but enough to make us all groan and roll our eyes.
Panicked January target
AT: Say what you like about Ed Woodward, but he understands image rights. Screw you, Spurs, United are going back for Paulo Dybala. (He won’t sign to play football, obviously. But he will appear in a series of cross-platform multimedia promotional spots for Yanmar Tractors.)
BM: United are light on bodies in midfield. Solskjaer has told anyone who will listen that he has made it a priority to target players who have “United DNA.” What does “United DNA” mean? No one knows. But Bruno Fernandes and Tanguey Ndombele apparently didn’t have it. But you know who does? Danny Drinkwater (conveniently available on loan after being sent back to Chelsea from Burnley mid-season).
CD: Someone from Bournemouth. Junior Stanislaus or Ryan Fraser maybe to add creativity. David Brooks could also be useful as a right winger, a position largely neglected by Ed Woodward.
AT: Going to be a pretty good year for knockout football. Out in the semis of the League Cup on away goals, after something calamitous under floodlights. But all will be forgiven when Big Hank Maguire puts his Big Hunk of Head on a free-kick in the 89th minute of the FA Cup final, and United bring home no. 13.
BM: The kids will win the League Cup. Solskjaer will play a mixture of veterans and youth in the FA Cup in yet another Alex Ferguson tribute act, and United will crash out in the third round away to Leeds. The kids will also take United on a fairy tale run to the Europa League quarterfinals, but a tough draw will panic Solskjaer into playing the first team, who will lose on away goals to Sporting.
CD: I think Solskjaer understands the value of winning silverware, regardless of the financial valuation of the FA Cup or League Cup. He knows it’s a chance to gain knockout/high pressure experience, and rotate the squad a bit as well to test his options. We saw them push hard in the FA Cup last year, but Wolves caught United at the start of their decline down the stretch. I’ll say they go far in the League Cup and lose to a bigger team, but go all the way to win the FA Cup.
Whatever the opposite of a write-off is. Write-on?
AT: For no reason other than, I think, that he shares a name with a good friend of mine, I’ve decided that Fred is going to have a decent season. I have no evidence, no data, and no real reasoning, and I will not be taking questions.
BM: Since signing his new contract in January, Anthony Martial impressively managed to take his foot off the gas with immediate effect. The sulky Frenchman was barely seen to so much as lightly perspire for nearly five months. But with Lukaku out of his way (and out of his no. 9 shirt), a now uninterrupted partnership with Marcus Rashford, and as much time spent centrally as he wants, Martial is going to score 20 goals this season.
CD: I’m a big believer in Marcus Rashford. He looked great under Ole until his ankle injury, and he did so at centre forward. I predicted 20+ goals for him this season and I’ll stand by that.
AT: Rashford, with 17 in the league and 43 for the season. Look, I said the cups were going to be fun.
BM: Maguire and his massive cranium. 15 from headed set pieces, and another 15 from penalties. Our new Steve Bruce.
CD: As above, so... right here. Marcus Rashford will score 25 goals in all competitions, followed by Martial also breaking 20.
Top corner taker
AT: A three-way tie between Juan Mata, Alexis Sánchez, and Luke Shaw.
BM: Andreas Pereira. As tradition demands, he will start brilliantly (“Finally someone who can take a corner,” we chirp stupidly), before hitting the first man with every corner from mid-September onwards.
CD: Juan Mata. He’s looked a lot better at no. 10 than he did on the wing, and he’ll be our set piece specialist again.