Ole Gunnar Solskajer faces his first full season in charge of Manchester United in 2019/20 and the former striker and his squad have got preparations well under way, with matches still set to take place in China and Wales – the Red Devils have already emerged victorious over Inter Milan, Leeds United and Perth Glory.
United missed out on Champions League football last term as Solskjaer’s revolution hit some stumbling blocks, although the Old Trafford outfit have added some real quality in key areas this summer, with a deal for England international Harry Maguire still in the works.
The 13-time Premier League champions will be hoping that they can regain their status as a top-four side and thus return to the pinnacle of European football this term, although they still have plenty of work to put in before they kick off their campaign against Chelsea next month. Click through the gallery to find out the five key things we’ve learned from United’s pre-season so far…
Former Crystal Palace man Aaron Wan-Bissaka became United’s second signing of the summer when he joined Daniel James, who had arrived from Swansea, at Old Trafford and the 21-year-old has hit the ground running – and fast. The right-back’s speed has been on display throughout pre-season, with Solskjaer giving him license to bomb forward and support the attack – something he did far less frequently at Selhurst Park due to his importance in the defensive phase.
More importantly, the number 29 makes it count when he gets into the final third – having been picked out expertly by Paul Pogba, the Englishman slid a first-time cross into Mason Greenwood, who finished with aplomb.
Questions were raised regarding Wan-Bissaka’s ability to operate in a system that affords more freedom to its full-backs and, so far, the player has answered them.
A 17-year-old footballer plying his trade at one of the top clubs in the world usually understands that his opportunities in the team are subject to injury, the importance of the game and whether the manager is willing to give the kids a chance – someone didn’t tell Mason Greenwood, though, with the forward netting twice and completing a stunning 9 dribbles in pre-season, according to Wyscout.
The Bradford-born starlet is really giving Marcus Rashford, who has also entered a fine run of form over the summer, a run for his money and Solskjaer has been so impressed with the youngster’s performances that he will consider starting him against Chelsea on opening day – talk about that for a vote of confidence.
Jose Mourinho’s sacking and Solskjaer’s subsequent appointment shifted the focus away from long-balls and 1-0 wins towards free-flowing, swashbuckling football – a change welcomed by the likes of Rashford, Pogba and Anthony Martial, all of whom were shackled by the defensive responsibilities thrust upon them by the controversial Portuguese.
This approach makes best use of the pace and skill in this United squad, although the lumbering giants whom Mourinho’s successes were built around have suffered somewhat – the likes of Chris Smalling and Nemanja Matic may have found their use under Solskjaer now, though.
In their pre-season victories, United have showed a surprising amount of threat from set-pieces, with Phil Jones converting an Andreas Pereira corner against Leeds, while the aforementioned Matic also hit the post in the same game. Axel Tuanzebe almost scored a towering header, which would have capped off a stellar defensive showing, against Perth Glory. It’s a new dimension to the Red Devils attack and means calamity Jones will at least be good for something in 2019/20.
If reports concerning Pogba’s desire to leave Old Trafford are to be believed, then the French world champion is going about finding an exit exactly the right way, as he plays his way onto the radar of any potential suitors rather than forcing his current employers to sell him by putting in performances far below the standard we all know he is capable of.
The midfielder shot to form after Solskjaer’s appointment, chalking up 13 goal contributions in the first nine games of the Norwegian manager’s tenure and has again proved his class in pre-season, as he makes cross-pitch passes and defence-splitting through-balls look effortless.
If United can keep him at Old Trafford then there’s no doubt that the 26-year-old will be crucial in 2019/20 – he’s got the skills to become a club legend, here’s hoping that his attitude follows.
The additions of James and Wan-Bissaka, albeit at different ends of the pitch, both bring raw pace to the side – something Solskjaer seems to be a big fan of in his system, with the likes of Rashford and Greenwood reaping the rewards of the high-tempo approach.
If speed is the key to success under Solskjaer, then it’s no wonder why Romelu Lukaku hasn’t been missed in pre-season – the burly Belgian has been absent through injury for three successive games, all of which United have won comfortably.
While the 26-year-old has proven himself to be an asset, scoring valuable braces against Arsenal and PSG last term, it’s clear that he isn’t essential to Solskjaer’s plans, which is why the Red Devils are willing to let him leave this summer if any club is willing to match their £80m valuation.