There are four particular things that we have learned from Manchester United’s eight game pre-season this summer.
The Red Devils have had an impressive start to their pre-season, winning their first three matches and keeping clean sheets in every one of them. However, things turned south as Manchester United faced two heavyweights, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, in five days, thus losing their next three matches.
The Reds regained their mojo and returned to winning ways on their return to Old Trafford against RC Lens. In less than a day, they traveled to Dublin to play their last match in the pre-season and drew with Athletic Bilbao, courtesy of a last-minute goal from Facundo Pellistri.
United’s summer signings, Andre Onana and Mason Mount, played a couple of matches and showed glimpses of what they can do. Erik ten Hag also provided ample opportunities to his academy players, along with some of the players who have clearly fallen off the ladder at Manchester United.
Ten Hag’s men will be kicking off their 2023/24 Premier League season next week when they host Wolves at the Theatre of Dreams on August 15. Before we jump out of our own skins about the return of the Premier League, let’s look at some of the things that we learned during United’s pre-season.
#1: Andre Onana is a significant upgrade over David de Gea
David de Gea was United’s loyal custodian for over a decade. Once one of the greatest goalkeepers in the world, the Spaniard had lost his touch in the last couple of years. After lots of chitchat among fans and pundits, De Gea was finally released from United, and days later, Onana was signed from Inter Milan.
Onana was handpicked by Erik ten Hag mainly because of his ball-playing abilities. We saw last season how Ten Hag prefers building from the back and hence signed Lisandro Martinez, an excellent ball-carrying defender. With Onana between the sticks, the Dutchman finally has a goalkeeper who is comfortable coming out of his line and is also influential in building from the back.
On his debut against Real Madrid, Onana had a 95% success rate in accurate passes. Although, the African conceded a goal against Lens, where he was beaten from the halfway line. However, the goal was a result of a momentary lapse from United’s defence.
#2: Jadon Sancho flourished in his new role
United’s record signing from Borussia Dortmund has yet to unleash his full potential. The English international has failed to live up to expectations while operating from either of the wings. This preseason, Ten Hag deployed him as a false nine, and the results are optimistic.
However, it is unlikely that he will continue in that position in the Premier League given the signing of Rasmus Hojlund. Yet, Sancho’s brilliance can be used well against low-pressing teams, where he can draw out opposition defenders from their natural positions by dropping deep. United’s winger, be it Rashford or Garnacho, can cash in on the ample space left behind to induce attack.
As seen in the match against Lens, United have shown how quickly they can transition during a counterattack. Besides Bruno and Mount laying long forward passes, Sancho can effectively hold the ball and can pass onto the forwarding wingers too. Anthony Martial has played in this position earlier, but given his flirtatious relationship with injuries and lack of consistency, Ten Hag is slowly moulding Sancho to be effective in such scenarios.
#3: Need of a clinical No. 9
Manchester United were terribly hurt by the lack of a clinical centre forward last season. Rashford has slotted in the middle a few times in the past but was clearly not effective as he was on the wing. Besides, he himself revealed that he prefers playing on the flanks.
The signing of Rasmus Hojlund from Atalanta came at the perfect time for United. Hojlund is fast, can link up and play well, and is still young, so he has a lot of room for improvement. As mentioned earlier, Sancho has been effective as the false 9 but he still lacks the finishing ability to find the back of the net.
Given Anthony Martial’s injury woes and Rashford’s strong apathy for playing as the No.9, Hojlund has high expectations pinned on him even before he has started training with the team.
#4: Exciting new talents are on the rise
Manchester United have never failed to generate raw, exciting talent every year during preseason. Over the years, we have seen the likes of Alejandro Garnacho and Zidane Iqbal, among others, create quite a stir during the pre-season.
This season, the stage belonged to Kobbie Mainoo, Facundo Pellistri, and Dan Gore. Mainoo, clearly the best of the lot, as he was also praised by the gaffer himself. However, the youngster is unfortunate to miss the first half of the season after suffering an injury in the early minutes against Real Madrid.
Facundo Pellistri, on the other hand, has improved significantly from last season. The Uruguayan spent last term on loan and also impressed at the FIFA World Cup. Pellistri scored a wonderful goal in the dying minutes against Athletic Club to salvage a draw for United. He also laid out an exciting pass to Sancho in the first half, an attempt that was later saved by Unai Simon of Bilbao.
Lastly, Dan Gore. The 18-year-old produced a stunning assist for Van de Beek in the second half against Lyon. During United’s draw against Bilbao, Gore was at his absolute best. The young lad was quick in transition, helped the team build from the back by dropping deeper. On some occasions, he also made strong tackles to win the ball back.
At such a young age, he has shown signs of possessing good vision; however, he still needs to work on his passing skills, as not all of his passes are accurate and he is still raw. If he flourishes properly, Gore can seriously save United from breaking the bank for midfielders in the next few transfer windows.
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