The kids are alright
United’s defeat to Wrexham in San Diego wasn’t quite what fans were expecting when making the trip. A side that featured very few players with senior minutes went up against last season’s National League champions, falling to the tune of 3-1 in an eventful match.
While spectators missed out on some of the first teamers who were in Houston readying for Real Madrid, they did get a glimpse at several players at the start of potentially exciting careers. Wingbacks Alvaro Fernandez and Marc Jurado combined for United’s only goal on the night, and midfielders Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Hannibal Mejbri once again demonstrated the tantalizing skill and technical excellence that could see them become big time players.
Many of the players were members of the 2021/22 FA Youth Cup winning side alongside Alejandro Garnacho, and they hope to achieve similar heights as the Argentine winger in United’s first team.
Kobbie Mainoo seems the most likely next youngster up after a solid preseason, but the group as a whole has some really promising prospects. Their inclusion in the tour and chances given against Leeds United, Lyon, and Wrexham gave good minutes in front of the manager to many young players, and will no doubt impact future planning for future development and deals.
Midfield depth finally being addressed
For the first time in a long time, Manchester United’s midfield is becoming an area of strenght.
The signing of Casemiro a year ago was a major step up in the vital holding midfield role. The serial winner at Real Madrid came in and quickly raised the floor of Erik ten Hag’s preferred starting XI, but above all he showed the expertise and experience that United had lacked for so long at the base of possession and coordinating defensive actions in the middle of the park.
While an understudy for Casemiro is a need, the rest of the position group around him has been bolstered in both the transfer window and the academy.
Kobbie Mainoo and Mason Mount join Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and (for now) Fred in a once barren midfield room that now shows some promise for the present and future. Mount’s talents are well known in progressing the ball and creating chances, and he provides an option for multiple positions in midfield and across the forward line.
Mainoo’s unfortunate injury suffered in Houston against Real Madrid may be a harsh setback for the young lad, but he showed plenty of evidence as to why the manager has kept him around the first team for the past few months. He may yet be the sought after understudy, but more importantly he already shows promise playing and passing through pressure.
The return of Donny van de Beek is another lift to the midfield unit, and while starting minutes cannot be shared evenly the depth allows for experimentation as well as better contingency plans.
Striker by committee may be on the table
While the signing of Rasmus Højlund is imminent, there are few other options at striker for the Reds. Anthony Martial failed to take over the position when healthy, and while Marcus Rashford proved to be a reliable source of goals he much prefers playing in a wide forward role than playing through the middle.
Until the young Dane arrives the manager has had to explore his options, and one such move was to test Jadon Sancho out as a center forward in a false 9 role. While providing some moments of trickery, creativity, and goal scoring, the preseason trial run was still a bit of mixed bag in terms of results.
However there was never likely to be a clear answer from friendlies with heavily rotated teams. Instead, we can infer that ten Hag is well aware of the need to find answers, and while no. 9s are in short supply he has plenty of wide players and tricky dribblers to choose from. The team is incomplete for now, but that doesn’t put the football on hold. Whether United’s new striker is ready from the start or a few months down the line, the manager has options. Filling the role via group effort in the meantime isn’t such a bad thought.