Butt has been promoted to ‘head of first team development’, whatever that means.
Manchester United have announced a reshuffle of the club’s academy staff, with the headline news being a promotion for Nicky Butt. The former United midfielder will move from ‘head of academy’ to head of ‘first team development’, apparently reporting directly to first team coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Nick Cox has in turn also been promoted, replacing Butt in his old role.
We must admit, we’re not really sure what any of this means, and United’s press release doesn’t seem to shed much light on things. It’s not even clear if this really is a promotion for Butt, or whether it’s just a way of replacing him with Cox without shunting him aside completely. Judge for yourself:
Nicky will work closely with the manager and the first team coaching staff to continue the strong bond between the Academy and the first team, to create a seamless journey for young players stepping up to the next level. He will continue to be a key contributor on all major Academy decisions and will be part of the Technical Board on wider football leadership.
Butt, one of the class of ‘92, made almost 400 appearances for United between 1992 and 2004, and had been the club’s head of academy since February 2016.
Manchester United are interested in Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, who I sometimes call Pablo Dybala through a lack of both football knowledge and professionalism.
Juventus are willing to sell the Argentine playmaker if a club meets their valuation for the player, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes that he would improve the side.
Solskjaer thinks that his attacking guile would add some much needed creativity to the United line-up, but there is a small catch. The club can only afford to make a move for the player if they are able to sell Romelu Lukaku (probably to Inter Milan) and/or Paul Pogba (Real Madrid).
Juventus want between £70 and £90 million for the 25-year-old striker (sort of, I’m running out of elegant variation guff), though there other clubs interested in Dybala too.
One club is Paris Saint-Germain, who have a better side than United but unless Marseille or Nice sort themselves out with their fancy rich owners, it’s a bit of an unglamorous league and too out of their depth when it comes to the Champions League, or people caring even vaguely what is going on with them. The other is Inter Milan, but they are struggling to afford Lukaku from United for about the same price as Dybala would cost.
While this is all very interesting, the two clubs will probably just swap Mauro Icardi with Dybala and avoid the whole rigmarole of drawn-out negotiations, but that doesn’t mean people can’t get their hopes up as a distraction from existing.
According to reports in The Independent and Bleacher Report, Manchester United have made a breakthrough in their negotiations with Leicester City for the transfer of Harry Maguire. Miguel Delaney in The Independent says that a deal for the England center back is now “imminent.”
United finally agreeing terms on the £80m Maguire deal. Mad amount of money to spend on him and Wan-Bissaka this summer but also very necessary
The Foxes have reportedly been holding out for a world record fee for a defender, using the amount paid by Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk as a reference point. If the reported fee of £80m plus add-ons is accurate, Manchester United will almost double the record amount they last paid for a defender when they signed Rio Ferdinand from Leeds 15 years ago.
Maguire is no van Dijk — and certainly no Ferdinand — but he is a fine player, and would arguably be United’s best defender on arrival. He is a proven commodity in the Premier League, who should in theory partner well with Victor Lindelöf, and he seems like a generally nice bloke.
United’s transfer business this summer is apparently going to be a series of deals that everyone is aware of, slowly playing out in public with one barely relevant update after another. After all, the Maguire deal has been some version of “imminent” for a week now, according to various reports. But if this does finally get over the line soon, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, before immediately moving on to reading the same sort of updates about Bruno Fernandes.
Taking a look at the multitude of options that United has at its disposal in the midfield
While Manchester United has only played three preseason matches, we’ve now had a solid look at the team’s strategy going into the season. One main aspect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s new-look squad has been the midfield, which has potential to be one of the most dynamic in the Premier League.
Playing hybrid formations of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, Solskjaer has created three midfield roles that get the best out of his crop of midfielders and allow them to play in more natural positions. While Ole has not implemented a groundbreaking tactical plan, his willingness to build a system around the talent he has and the talent he wants to add, is commendable.
Starting with the defensive midfielders, Ole currently has Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matić, Fred, and James Garner at his disposal. Throughout United’s three preseason games, Ole has had his defensive midfielder stay relatively low on the field, protecting the back line and focusing on retrieving possession.
Between all the defensive midfield options, though, McTominay has been the one to stand out most at the position. The young Scot is playing more comfortably and confidently now that he has a full year of experience under his belt, and he fits the role that the team needs perfectly. McTominay is confident on the ball, physically strong, and can also play-make from deep, all of which are tools that United is going to need throughout the season.
McTominay currently has an edge over the other defensive-minded midfielders, but his inexperience is still an aspect of his game that could be an issue. While I don’t think it’ll stop him from being a starter, there will be stretches of inconsistency throughout the year that he’ll have to fight through. Nevertheless, he is still the best option United has and he should be the undisputed starter once the season begins.
The next midfield role that Ole has implemented is the box-to-box midfielder. This role was tailor-made for Paul Pogba, but Andreas Pereira has also shown he is capable of playing here if needed.
Unlike José Mourinho, who limited Pogba’s play by utilizing him too deep in the midfield, Ole is allowing Pogba to be a fluid presence on the pitch. The star Frenchman will have the liberty to join every attack, where he’ll surely thrive by being able to play in space and lead counter attacks.
Pogba will also be tasked with getting back on defense, where his size, strength, and tackling ability will be highlighted. In a box-to-box role, Pogba is able to optimize his abilities to find open players on the counter attack, which is sure to be one of Manchester United’s biggest strengths this coming season.
Additionally, Pogba will be utilized as the primary creator in the midfield. Throughout their preseason games thus far, Pogba has been running the show from midfield, as his teammates are getting him the ball as much as possible and allowing him to survey the field and make plays. By allowing him to break the formation on offense and join the attack, Pogba will have a plethora of chances to create goal-scoring opportunities.
The last midfield role that’s been implemented is the attacking midfielder, better known as the no. 10 role. Playing in a more advanced position, this role is for players that can create in tight spaces and make quick decisions on the ball. While United currently does not employ a world-class player at the position, the squad does have a collection of players that can functionally play the role.
Among these players are Juan Mata, Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Angel Gomes. Thus far in the preseason, only Mata, Lingard, and Gomes have played minutes as a no. 10, all to varying degrees of success. In addition, United’s multitude of options may also expand, as they continue to be linked with a move for midfield maestro Bruno Fernandes.
Of the players they currently employ, United’s most experienced attacking midfielder is Mata, who played the role against Leeds in preseason. Playing as an attacking midfielder is Mata’s preferred position and allows him to play in his most natural role as a playmaker behind the front three, where he can create chances down the middle and feed wingers.
Unlike when he’s deployed as a winger, the no. 10 role should get the best out of him, but at 31 years old with waning speed and athleticism, he’s likely better off being a high-end rotational player.
Lingard also played as a no. 10 against Inter, where he seemed average at best. Lingard is another interesting option, as it was clear last season that he wasn’t being maximized playing on the wing, similar to Mata. Getting to roam freely behind the front three, Lingard is placed in a more natural position, where he’ll be a goal-scoring threat from midfield.
Additionally, having to work in tighter spaces will be beneficial for Lingard, as it’ll force him to dribble less (which he isn’t great at) and make him pass the ball quicker (he’s a much better ball mover). While I don’t expect him to play significant starting minutes this season, he could be a solid rotational piece. Ultimately, there’s hope that the role will allow Lingard to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
Perhaps the most interesting option throughout the preseason has been Angel Gomes. After spending years as the crowned jewel of the United academy, Gomes is now ready to be a part of the first team on a consistent basis.
Gomes has played the no. 10 role throughout the preseason, where he’s shown the ability to function in tight spaces and make elite passing reads. Unlike United squads in the past, that seldom used an attacking midfielder down the middle, this iteration of the team has created a role that Gomes perfectly fits in.
Gomes is a prototypical no. 10, and his skillset will be enhanced if he’s able to get minutes throughout the season. He’s already proven that he’s better than his youth competition, and considering his upcoming contract expiration, United will need to give him ample opportunities to prove himself.
United are also still linked with a move for Portuguese star midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who would slot into the no. 10 role perfectly. Fernandes can do it all as an attacking midfielder: he can dribble, pass, create scoring opportunities, and score goals himself.
His creativity and goal-scoring ability would be an enormous plus for United’s midfield, and could be the key to making a push for the Premier League title. Adding Fernandes to a midfield trio that already has Pogba would thoroughly enhance United’s offense, and allow them to field two world-class players in midfield throughout the season. Considering the lack of creativity United has had in midfield since Paul Scholes retired, it would be a massive improvement for the squad.
While the system that Ole is implementing complements the offensive end perfectly, there’s still some questions concerning its sustainability on the defensive end. With so many players going forward, sizeable gaps are created in the midfield and only one defensive midfielder is left to deal with a possible counter attack. Of course, United have yet to be tested on that side of the field in preseason, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Ultimately, Manchester United will have an abundance of options in the midfield this coming season. Their mixture of experienced players, youth prospects, and world-class talent should be able to perform well throughout the season. While they can still use some reinforcements, being able to slot players into specific roles that highlight their abilities, along with having an organized midfield, will hopefully allow United to get the best out of their crop of midfielders.
Manchester United started off the 2019 International Champions Cup with a win over Inter Milan. The Nerazzurri were a bit short handed, as they have yet to replace the outgoing talents of Radja Nainngolan and Mauro Icardi, but Antonio Conte’s men still put up a typical Conte defensive wall to keep United at bay. Samir Handanovic and co. held on for most of the match, but United’s enterprising attack managed to break through in the second half.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the match.
Mason Greenwood is competing for the first team
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasn’t lying, the kid is ready to play.
Mason Greenwood, United’s 17-year old wonder kid, has continued to impress on this preseason tour, and this time against some top European competition. Greenwood scored the game’s only goal, a brilliantly taken rebound effort through a crowd of defenders, which fooled Joao Mario in particular.
Greenwood is relatively untested in competitive first team football, but he’s shown he’s not lacking in ability or confidence. He doesn’t seem nearly as raw as some of the other youngsters in the squad, and seems like a legitimate option to start on opening day against Chelsea.
Solskjaer doesn’t have his first-choice starting XI yet
Solskjaer continued to mix up the rotations in this match, and started what seemed to be a rough draft first-choice XI today:
For the most part United continued the preseason trend of pressing high and attacking, despite Inter being a clear level above Perth or Leeds, but Conte’s bus put up some serious resistance. When United did manage to get through on goal, Handanovic proved why he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Rashford and Martial swapped their regular positions, leading to a somewhat confusing reunion, and Daniel James look very much like a Championship player. Jesse Lingard had another underwhelming performance at no. 10, and Matic looked in midseason form with his mis-placed passes and scrambling recovery.
It is preseason, and chemistry issues will ideally be hammered out, but what is clear is that Solskjaer is not done working on his team. He is taking advantage of the time he has to figure out what works and what doesn’t, a promising sign, but a bit worrying considering some of what doesn’t work may need to be fixed by Ed Woodward in the transfer market (a notoriously unreliable option). He seems set on a 4-2-3-1 formation, he just needs the right pieces to fit the puzzle.
Whether or not he stays, Pogba isn’t going to force anything
The Paul Pogba transfer saga has been a dominant headline in Manchester United news this summer following the reveal of his desire for a “new challenge.” It has been a scary time for United supporters, who are unsure of the stability of a midfield that could potentially lose it’s two best players in one summer. However, Solskjaer, through words, and Pogba, through action, have reassured us that whatever he may want, if he stays he won’t play down his abilities.
Such abilities were on display today against Inter, with Pogba remaining involved in the buildup play throughout his hour on the pitch. He almost single handedly gave United the lead in the second half after taking on several Inter defenders and driving into the area, a play that simultaneously demonstrated the frustration of dealing with the Italian defense and Pogba’s remarkable ability on the ball. While this takeaway is more than just based on the performance, Pogba’s effort certainly helps make the case that he’s still committed to whatever team he’s on.
Pogba’s participation in United’s tour events and social media content and promotions indicate that he is, as Solskjaer has said, being a professional and fulfilling his duties at the club. He even seems to be enjoying himself, defeating the narrative that he is at odds with teammates and coaches over his committment to the team. He may very well be on the move in the future, but for now at least it seems he is very much a part of Solskjaer’s plans, and that he’s happy to oblige.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has elite defensive talent
Wan-Bissaka just continues to impress.
He’s not been put under pressure in a competitive fixture yet for United, but the brand new right back has wasted no time showcasing his arsenal of defensive abilities. His timing, positioning, vision, and athleticism has made him stand out in United’s back four, the weakest unit last season. He effectively shut down the left hand side of Inter’s attack, so much so that Dalbert began playing the ball out as soon as he could just to avoid another physical confrontation with the Englishman.
AWB again looked comfortable going forward as well, and was willing to take on the opposing fullbacks one on one. If he can continue to inspire such fear in his opponents as he has so far on the tour, United will be much better off than they were with Ashley Young as a converted fullback.
Antonio Conte needs a striker
Romelu Lukaku rode the bench yet again, out with an apparent injury, but has been front and center in transfer rumours. Inter Milan have supposedly been high on the Belgian striker since the arrival of new manager Antonio Conte, who tried to obtain Lukaku’s services two years ago at Chelsea. Inter were lacking in attacking talent today, and are ready to move on from the problematic yet prolific Mauro Icardi. United are reportedly willing to sell if Inter can match the massive fee paid for Lukaku’s move from Everton two years ago, but they’ve yet to do so, clearly.
Lukaku’s future will have pretty major implications for Solskjaer’s plans this season. The no. 9 hasn’t played a massive role under Ole so far, but will certainly continue to be given chances if he does stay. However, if he leaves, the club will need to look to the market to replace the lost depth at forward. There isn’t much time until the window closes for Premier League clubs, so decisions must be made ASAP.
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
United ramp up their pre-season preparations on Saturday in Singapore
Manchester United play their third match of the pre-season on Saturday, facing off against Italian giants Internazionale in Singapore. The clash will be United’s first involvement in this summer’s International Champions Cup, the amusingly-named friendly summer tournament. After making a full XI changes at half time of both matches so far, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed that some players will now get 60 or 75 minutes, as the intensity of the team’s pre-season preparations begins to ramp up.
David de Gea is in line to make his pre-season debut after being ill this week, forming part of a starting XI that will likely resemble Solskjaer’s strongest available. One player who will not be involved is Romelu Lukaku, who is looking increasingly likely to be playing for United’s opponents next season. Inter manager Antonio Conte has confirmed his interest in United’s number 9, and while the official reason for Lukaku’s non-participation is lack of fitness, a transfer seems to be imminent.
International Champions Cup schedule
12:30 in the UK, which translates to 7:30 in the morning on the east coast of the U.S. and a bleary-eyed 4:30 AM on the west.
International Champions Cup channel
The match is only available on MUTV in the UK, but is on ESPN 2 for those in the States. Everyone else, head on over to LiveSoccerTV to find out your viewing options.
International Champions Cup streaming
MUTV in the UK, ESPN’s streaming platform for those in the States.
Inter striker Romelu Lukaku | Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/International Champions Cup/Getty Images
Let’s be honest: the International Champions Cup could be United’s best shot at silverware in 2019/20
On to Singapore. With opening day just over three weeks away, Manchester United continue their preseason preparations on Saturday against Inter Milan. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s match.
(1) The Reds wrapped up the Australian leg of Tour 2019 with an impressive 4-0 win over Leeds. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looked especially dangerous on the counter, carving through tired defenders with ease. Marcus Rashford scored on one break and Daniel James hit the post on another. Like the Perth Glory match, Solskjaer switched his entire eleven at halftime — a luxury that Leeds, with only five subs on the bench, could not afford. United ran the Whites ragged in the second half, adding goals from Phil Jones and Anthony Martial.
(2) No one should make too much out of preseason performances, but first-half goals from Rashford and Mason Greenwood bode particularly well. Greenwood, in particular, needed a boost of confidence in front of goal. Between the season finale against Cardiff City and last week’s Perth match, he had squandered a lot of really good scoring chances. It’s no reason to worry — Greenwood is just 17, after all — but it must come as a huge relief to finally get on the scoresheet. Hopefully, that tap-in opens the floodgates.
(3)Paul Pogba hasn’t always endeared himself to Manchester United supporters — especially with his recent comments in Japan — but he deserves credit for setting aside all of the (self-inflicted) uncertainty and playing well in Australia. His weighted pass out wide to Aaron Wan-Bissaka set everything in motion for United’s first goal on Wednesday and he delivered several other highlight-worthy moments, too. Whether Pogba ultimately stays or goes, it’s hugely encouraging that he’s not letting all of the outside noise affect his performances. Long may that continue.
Today's #MUFC Man of the Match, as voted by the fans...
(4) Three more Reds are set to link up with Ole’s full squad in Singapore. Fred, Matteo Darmian, and Dean Henderson — all excused for the first ten days of tour — will arrive ahead of the weekend match with Inter. Only Fred has a realistic path into the first team, with Darmian hopefully getting his preferred move back to Italy and Henderson heading back out on loan. Fred’s first season in Manchester didn’t pan out well at all, so there’s a lot of work ahead for the 26-year-old Brazilian to justify his transfer price and turn his United career around.
(5) Everything points to David De Gea signing a new bumper contract upon the squad’s return home. The Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situations remain unresolved, but this is one huge item checked off United’s summer to-do list. DDG committed several uncharacteristic errors down the stretch last season, though United’s sieve-like defense did almost nothing to protect him. The backline should be much improved with Wan-Bissaka spidering on the right — not to mention the possible addition of Harry Maguire — so 2019/20 should be better on that front. De Gea might make his preseason debut on Saturday after battling a fever all week.
(6) The Inter Milan match also marks the start of the International Champions Cup. The Reds will play three matches in the competition over the next few weeks and, since the ICC needs to crown a winner from the twelve participants, there are no draws. If level at the full-time whistle, the match goes straight to penalties. Winners in the spot kick shootout get two points, while the losers settle for a single point. United won this competition back in 2014.
(7) Inter Milan find themselves in a similar position as Manchester United: the long, hard road of rebuilding a European giant. They’ve never been quite the same since winning the Treble in 2010, but finally look to be back on track after appointing Antonio Conte as manager. Despite a disappointing season overall, the Nerazzurri qualified for the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Empoli on the final day of the Serie A season.
(8) In a surprise twist, Conte named Radja Nainggolan to Inter’s tour squad. That seemed unlikely earlier this summer when the new boss banished Nainggolan from training, but The Ninja battled back and now has a chance to regain his spot in the team. When he joined from Roma last summer, supporters hailed the move as a major coup, but it hasn’t quite worked out.
(9) Unlike Nainggolan, time is up for Mauro Icardi. A turbulent 2018/19 saw the prolific striker stripped of the captaincy and embroiled in a bitter dispute with the club over his delayed return from an injury. A cascade of boos chased Icardi off the San Siro pitch after missing a penalty in the Empoli finale. Conte, looking to stamp his authority on his new team, has kept him at arm’s length from the start.
(10) The Icardi melodrama leads right back to Manchester United, where Romelu Lukaku stands as Conte’s preferred target. And, despite some disappointment over the Belgian’s performances last season, it’s not hard to see why. Lukaku scored 42 goals for the Reds in two injury-shortened seasons, overcoming a questionable first touch to put away a lot of goals. Inter reportedly tabled a laughable bid (two-year loan with obligation to buy) that United rightly rejected out of hand. They’ll need to do much better to pry Lukaku out of Manchester.
(11) Still, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Lukaku hasn’t played yet in preseason. Whether truly carrying a knock or just held out as a transfer precaution, Big Rom will need some playing time sooner or later. “It’s not ideal when you miss a training session and he was missing towards the end of yesterday’s session,” Solskjaer said on Wednesday. “He missed the game again and it’s two chances to play 45 minutes at this stage of the preseason. It’s important for everyone to get fit and hopefully he’ll be available soon.”
This summer’s online “protest” rings a little hollow
Twitter is home to trolling as much as reasoned debate.
A dispute took place last week involving some of those involved in the #GlazersOut movement and Manchester journalist Andy Mitten. Mitten is editor of Manchester United fanzine United We Stand. Some on Twitter had taken issue with Mitten not questioning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer regarding the #GlazersOut movement at the Press Conference in Perth.
Mitten had initially tweeted saying that he was in fact in Brisbane, five hours away. The tweeters then accused Mitten of having sold himself to the Glazer family despite Mitten having regularly covered the topic in the United We Stand fanzine and podcast.
The question is though: why are factions of the #GlazersOut movement now targeting journalists instead of taking more direct action? Also: is Andy Mitten really the central Manchester United figurehead who has drank the Glazer Kool-Aid and chosen to stay quiet?
The #GlazersOut movement is fine on a superficial, Twitter-based, ‘while there is no football on tv, let’s feel like we are doing something by getting this thing trending’ type of way. Its origin is entirely earnest; that the Glazer family have mismanaged Manchester United, bled the club for almost one billion pounds and allowed Ed Woodward’s chaotic premiership to continue year after year. On the back of this, these supporters want the Glazers to sell the club. Few could argue.
But as it stands, the #GlazersOut movement is no more than an internet pastime for people trying to pass the time until football returns. Trending on Twitter – what the fuck does that even matter?
If the often-anonymous Twitter users (hiding behind an Eric Cantona 1993 avatar) leading #GlazersOut are using their movement to prepare supporters for what might be ahead; then this is fine. If those trying to lead the charge on Twitter want Manchester United supporters to be prepared for what they might need to do in October, November, and December should results and general management of the club continue to go awry, then that might make sense. But what are they trying to achieve now?
As it currently stands, it looks as though #GlazersOut is not only rudderless, but those involved appear unaware of how a significant long-term strategy could ever work in practice. ‘Trending’ does not equate to action. #GlazersOut will only ever matter if Manchester United supporters actively choose to take its principles to heart, which to date they have not.
The movement will only matter if people boycott United merchandise and that of their sponsors, if they cancel their MUTV subscriptions and if supporters are actually willing in November and December to take part in stadium walk-outs; not by retweeting a ‘Boycott United’ tweet from a fanboy United Twitter accounts based in New Hampshire or New Delhi.
Abandoning purchasing Manchester United jerseys is all well and fine if people do it, but most would doubt that the #GlazersOut movement is the reason that Liverpool jerseys are outnumbering Manchester United jerseys ten-to-one this summer.
Another problem with the #GlazersOut movement is that its lacks real credibility or leadership. Some on Twitter can target Andy Mitten all they like, but is he really the figurehead who sold himself? This is where the movement fully ventures into trolling territory. These people should probably take a history lesson before tweeting journalists.
Let’s not forget it was Alex Ferguson’s fallout with John Magnier and JP McManus in 2003 which led to the pair then selling their shares in Manchester United to the Glazer family. It was Alex Ferguson who preached financial prudence in the post-2009 years and lamented a “lack of value in the market.” It was Alex Ferguson who spoke of being always well paid by the Glazer family, something which continues to this day.
And then – how realistic is the #GlazersOut campaign to succeed? The campaign to rid Newcastle United of Mike Ashley has failed abysmally. Manchester and Manchester United are far more attractive and commercial prospects than Newcastle admittedly, but also vastly more expensive and thus far the only person linked with an interest in Manchester United has been Mohammad Bin Salman.
You’ve heard of Mohammad Bin Salman. He’s the Saudi Crown Prince worth an estimated $17 billion.
Imagine the transfer budget.
In June, The Guardian reported that there was ‘credible evidence’ that he was responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And it very well might come down to the Glazers or Bin Salman. Who would the #GlazersOut movement choose if it came down to a straight choice between the two?
There is the genuine fear that the #GlazersOut movement is built on a foundation of sand and it is nothing but idle, internet talk. Time will tell. It’s easy to retweet something, but will these people feel as strongly — having spent £300 on tickets and travel to get to a United game in November — when the crowd are walking out in protest in the thirtieth minute, because that is what a real campaign with conviction and aims is all about? How strongly are their convictions going to be then?
Will all these supporters feel as strongly about the Anti-Glazer movement after signing Harry Maguire? Will they feel the same way when David De Gea re-signs for the club, or will that #GlazersOut feeling be a little less potent? What happens the movement if Solskjaer’s United thump Lampard’s Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day of the season?
Should Manchester United’s forthcoming Premier League season start badly — and I don’t actually believe it will — then rumblings of protests might start appearing around Old Trafford.
But trending on Twitter in mid-July before pre-season has even started? Give me a break.
Greenwood, Rashford, Jones, and Martial get the goals
Manchester United cruised to a second straight victory on their pre-season tour of Australia, beating Leeds United 4-0 in Perth. United scored a pair of goals in either half, with Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Phil Jones, and Anthony Martial all getting on the scoresheet. Here are some takeaways from the match.
Rashford scores again
Marcus Rashford scored for the second match running, and while it is always folly to read too much into pre-season results, the young striker looks confident in front of goal. His finish for United’s second was just the sort of goal fans want to see him score more often. Rather than relying on his just his speed, Rashford used a clever feint to beat two defenders before opening his body up to finish across the ‘keeper and into the far corner.
If Rashford is to become a 20 goal per season player — which he will be need to be if he means to lead the line for United — then he has to become more clinical in front of goal. An A-League team and a weakened Championship side may be cannon fodder, but the signs are encouraging.
Pace, pace, pace
Solskjaer has hardly had a press conference or interview where he hasn’t mentioned the word “pace,” and the early signs in his first pre-season are that it will be a hallmark of his team. Mason Greenwood and Daniel James look set to feature regularly this season, joining Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial up front. Just as importantly, Aaron Wan-Bissaka will provide speed on the overlap, adding to the young and vigorous fullback options of Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot.
The opening goal in particular demonstrated the value of injecting speed into the team. Paul Pogba’s clever through ball was perfectly timed for Wan-Bissaka to make full use of his pace to get on the end of it before crossing to the onrushing Greenwood. If Pogba and United’s other midfielders can continue to use their speed of thought to maximize the speed of foot of the players around them, United could be very fun to watch this season.
An attacking formation
In the two pre-season matches so far, Solskjaer has opted for what looks like a 4-2-3-1 formation. In each of the 4 halves (with 11 changes coming in at half time of both games), the manager has deployed only one holding midfielder. The other “midfield spot” has been given over to a deep-lying attacker. In today’s match, Juan Mata and Angel Gomes played the no. 10 role in either half. Having more attackers on the pitch does not necessarily equate to playing more attacking football, but it is another sign that Solskjaer means to play on the front foot by default.
The kids are ready
Greenwood is seriously good. Anyone who has watched him at academy and reserve level can tell you this, but he now looks ready to challenge for a first team place. He may not get many games ahead of Rashford and Martial as a lead striker, but he offers more on the right of the attack than any of the other current options (more on that below). Tahith Chong had a very good second half, and while he may benefit more from a loan this season, he’s certainly impressed more so far in Australia than the likes of Mata and Jesse Lingard.
Angel Gomes was one of the bright sparks of the second half, and is another player who has shown up his senior competitors a bit. Small as he is, he regularly plays in midfield for the reserves (as opposed to the appearances he’s made for the senior team on the wings), and provides great technical ability in a central attacking midfield role. It was his clever link up with Chong that eventually lead to the penalty which Martial converted.
Holes in the squad remain
Even in a friendly against second tier opposition, Marcos Rojo managed to look out of place. The Argentinian defender is not an acceptable left-back (or center back, for that matter). Luke Shaw picking up a slight injury in the last match was a reminder of his chequered fitness history, and United do not have an obvious back up. Ashley Young’s decline shows no sign of reversing, and Dalot is obviously more comfortable on the opposite flank.
In attack, right wing continues to be a problem area. Greenwood has looked like the best option so far, but a teenager playing out of position is hardly a serious solution. James is still very raw, and also more suited to playing on the left. For all the focus on center back and center midfield, another attacker may be needed just as much.
Colin is joined by Olly Allen to discuss Rooney’s final season at Manchester United, his role in the team at that point, and his record breaking goals that allowed him to bow out as the club’s greatest ever goalscorer.
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