In terms of opening day fixtures, it doesn’t get much more exciting than Manchester United versus Chelsea at Old Trafford – the game, which kicks off at 16:30 BST on Sunday 11th August, will see both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard begin their first full seasons as United and Blues managers respectively.
The top-four rivals last met on 28th April, when a Marcos Alonso goal cancelled out Juan Mata’s early opener to ensure both sides shared the spoils. Thereafter would follow two disappointing results against Huddersfield and Cardiff which saw the Red Devils crash out of the Champions League race.
Solskjaer will be hoping for a resurgent start to the 2019/20 campaign similar to that which saw his side go 12 games unbeaten after he took over from Jose Mourinho in December, although the side could have a very different look and feel to it this time around.
Having already secured the signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the Old Trafford outfit have injected both youth and pace into the side, while also adding crucial strength in depth in key areas. There are plenty of ways in which the ‘baby-faced assassin’ could line up his United side come August.
Below, we’ve outlined five potential XIs that could be fielded by United on the opening weekend.
United’s global appeal means that they are usually linked with every high-profile name under the sun when the transfer window rolls around and while some of these rumours are completely unrealistic, there are some potential additions that would be perfect.
Leicester’s Harry Maguire could join United for a £90m fee and the England international offers exactly what Solskjaer is looking for from his central defenders – he can stroll out from the back line and find a teammate with ease, as evidenced by his 86.1% passing accuracy, while also being stoic in defence.
The departures of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini have left United light in the middle of the park and the addition of Bruno Fernandes would give the Red Devils a truly world-class creative hub – imagine Paul Pogba and the Portuguese pulling the strings. The Sporting Lisbon captain chalked up a stellar 20 goals and 13 assists from midfield last term and, at 24 years old, still has plenty of room to get even better.
The aforementioned Pogba has proved a difficult player to manage and has been linked with a move away this summer. The dynamic number 6 is unplayable on his day and it would be a major loss to United if he were to find a way through the exit door before Chelsea visit next month.
Should United’s swoop for Maguire fall through, it’s possible that Red Devils fans could see either or both of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in defence again, while the extension of Ashley Young’s contract suggests that Solskjaer sees a use for the former Aston Villa man in 2019/20.
Meanwhile, the combination of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez offers Solskjaer far less mobility up front than the likes of Rashford or Anthony Martial – this team could get ripped apart.
The additions of James, 21, and Wan-Bissaka, 21, indicate that Solskjaer is keen to stray as far away from his predecessor’s transfer policy as possible – Jose Mourinho was usually more preoccupied with signing ready-made stars like Pogba and Nemanja Matic.
Former Swansea man James has already impressed with his athleticism in pre-season and was voted man of the match as he made his debut in the victory over Perth Glory – if he keeps it up, there’s no reason as to why he can’t oust Martial from the starting XI and thus make the left-wing spot his own.
Academy talent James Garner has been likened to Michael Carrick and is adept at dictating play from deep – perhaps he’s the perfect player to complement Pogba’s dynamism in the middle – while Mason Greenwood’s instinctive goal against Leeds on Wednesday suggested that he’s also ready to get an extended run in the first team.
If Solskjaer wants to get at United’s visitors on opening day, then this is the XI he should be looking to start. Leaving out impressive new boy Wan-Bissaka is a contentious decision but the threat Diogo Dalot offers in the final third is what makes this approach appealing. The former Porto man completed a solid 1.1 key passes per game last term, whereas Wan-Bissaka managed just 0.4.
Up front, the electric combination of Martial and Rashford offers Solskjaer plenty of fluidity, while the deployment of Juan Mata at No. 10 means United have a player capable of picking out their striking duo’s runs. The inclusion of Pogba is non-negotiable, while pairing the World-Cup-winner with box-to-box Scott McTominay and holding midfielder Nemanja Matic gives United the balance in midfield.
Starting former Palace man Wan-Bissaka at right-back ahead of Dalot means that United’s right side is basically on lock down – the number 29 completed an astonishing 3.7 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game last term, while also being dribbled past just 0.3 times per game, according to WhoScored. There remains a place in the starting XI for Dalot, though, with the 20-year-old’s ability on the ball making him a decent option further forward while adding an extra layer of defensive protection.
The core of midfield remains the same, although Jesse Lingard should get the nod over former Blues man Mata – the England international completed 1.1 tackles per game in 2018/19 and can get stuck in when necessary, whereas the Spaniard managed just 0.4, according to WhoScored.
Rashford, meanwhile, offers threat in behind on the counter-attack and Chris Smalling gives pure physicality to the defence alongside Victor Lindelof.