Manchester United kick off another Premier League campaign on Sunday at home against Chelsea. After finishing sixth a season ago, the Reds are out to reclaim a spot in the Champions League and start a steady climb back into title contention. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of this weekend’s match.
(1) United finished off an unbeaten preseason with a penalty kick shootout win over AC Milan last Saturday. That wasn’t enough to bring home the International Champions Cup, but still built plenty of belief for the difficult Premier (and Europa) League season ahead. After a horrendous end to 2018/19, United need any confidence boosts that they can get.
(2) Paul Pogba missed the last two preseason matches with a back problem. Suspicious? Duh. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer adamantly denies any transfer-related subtext to Pogba’s absences. “It’s not an injury, just some pain,” the boss said. “He’s not injured, but I wasn’t going to risk anything this weekend. He should be okay [for Chelsea].”
(3) On Monday, United officially announced the £80 million signing of Harry Maguire. Despite spending the entire preseason with Leicester City, Maguire should be good to go for Sunday. “Harry is one of the best center backs in the game today and I am delighted we have secured his signature,” said Solskjaer. “He is a great reader of the game and has a strong presence on the pitch, with the ability to remain calm under pressure — coupled with his composure on the ball and a huge presence in both boxes.” Sounds like just the guy we need.
(4) Romelu Lukaku started the week AWOL in Belgium and ended it as the newest member of Inter Milan. Lukaku hasn’t played a single minute in preseason with an ankle “injury,” though that didn’t stop him from logging one of the fastest speed scores in a recent training session. Thankfully, Inter finally lodged a serious bid for the big Belgian and a £74 million transfer was wrapped up on deadline day. Replacing his goals won’t be easy — even in a poor season, he still outscored Marcus Rashford in fewer minutes — but Lukaku well and truly burned his bridges at United this summer.
(5) Chelsea faced their own transfer drama this week after David Luiz skipped out on training to force through an £8 million move to Arsenal. He had fallen behind the club’s other center backs and obviously hopes that a reunion with Unai Emery can rejuvenate his career.
(6) Ole on an unbeaten summer and Sunday’s opener:
“I think we’ve done well. It’s a work in progress. It’s not like [the AC Milan match] gave you a final answer that we’re ready. We still have to work throughout the season to improve as every game goes on. We’re ready for the next game. We’re all fit and raring to go. It’ll be a fantastic day at Old Trafford.”
(7) It’s been an eventful offseason at Chelsea. Maurizio Sarri jumped ship back to Italy, Eden Hazard moved to Real Madrid, and Frank Lampard took over the Stamford Bridge hot-seat after just one season as manager of Derby County. Plus, UEFA levied a two-window transfer ban on the Blues, leaving them unable to back Lampard — or replace Hazard.
(8) That job will mostly fall to January signing Christian Pulisic. For years, Hazard was the man who made Chelsea tick and posed a constant threat with or without the ball. Pulisic has spent the last four seasons with Borussia Dortmund sharpening his skills and looks more than ready for the big time. Still, filling Hazard’s boots will be a nigh impossible task for the USMNT star.
(9) Chelsea finished 2018/19 in third place, but will do well to stay in the top four this season. With Manchester United plotting a charge up the table — at least to fourth — the most vulnerable teams appear to be Chelsea and Arsenal. That makes Sunday’s match all the more important — the Reds need to lay down a marker with three points.
(10) And, considering Chelsea’s injury woes, that should be the result Ole and the boys are targeting. Just take a look at the Chelsea players still carrying injuries: Antonio Rudiger, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, and Willian. Some might gut it out on Sunday, but this should be far from a full-strength Blues side.
(11) Finally, Manchester United aim to keep their opening day win streak alive this weekend. The Reds have won their Premier League opener in each of the last four seasons, including a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in 2015 and three straight under José Mourinho. Paul Pogba has his own streak going, too. He’s scored in the last two season openers. Here’s hoping he makes it three on Sunday.