Harry Maguire, Axel Tuanzebe and Marco Giampaolo all in mind as Man United take on AC Milan

Matt Jones - Editor 20:45 02/08/2019
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Manchester United take on AC Milan in a glamour pre-season friendly at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

For the Red Devils it’s their final rehearsal before the curtain goes up on the Premier League season next weekend, while the Rossoneri are looking for their first win of the summer following defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica, and a draw with Novara.

Here, we pick out three talking points ahead of the game.

MAGUIRE ON MOVE, TIME FOR TUANZEBE

Axel Tuanzebe

United appear to have come to an agreement with Leicester City for Harry Maguire ahead of the Premier League transfer window closing next Thursday.

If something goes drastically wrong, however, or even if the England international does complete what is believed to be a world-record £85 million deal for a defender, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make in terms of moving forward defensively for the new season.

The safest of those decisions would be to slot in Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as back-up options to Maguire and Victor Lindelof – the only elite centre-back United currently possess. For all their critics and faults, both are vastly experienced Premier League players who are closing in on a decade with the Red Devils.

The bold and brazen choice would be to throw Axel Tuanzebe to the lions and name him as the No3 centre-back option. But it would not be brash. The Democratic Republic of the Congo-born defender is fresh from a full campaign of games at senior level for the first time in his career.

He caught the eye too as he made 30 appearances in total for Aston Villa – 25 in the Championship – as Dean Smith led the Villains back into the Premier League.

Solskjaer is also a known champion of youth. And, as has been proved by a pre-season in which academy players have featured heavily – and shone – the Norwegian is not shy to promote from within. In fact, it makes a lot of sense for him to do so. Part of the problem with previous regimes since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has been their over-reliance on experience, or penchant for buying players with pizzazz.

As the signings of Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and Bastian Schweinsteiger have shown, the tried and tested method is not necessarily the best. Jones and Smalling have had so many chances and failed to convince, much like Eric Bailly, now out injured until Christmas, while it is a mystery how Marcos Rojo remains on the payroll.

Leicester’s Maguire demands appear to have been met, but the 21-year-old Tuanzebe should still be trusted with an important role in 2019/20.

CAN NEW MAN MAKE MILAN MATTER?

Gonzalo Higuain was one of a number of flops for Milan in recent years.

Gonzalo Higuain was one of a number of flops for Milan in recent years.

AC Milan’s transfer activity this summer has been more streamlined than scattergun.

After throwing money at their problems previously, the San Siro giants have taken a step back – new manager Marco Giampaolo is arguably the headline arrival.

It might seem silly to say that with the likes of Theo Hernandez arriving from Real Madrid. But, as yet, only three men have joined him in the famous colours of the Rossoneri.

Franck Kessie’s move from Atalanta has been made permanent after two seasons on loan, while Bosnia midfielder Rade Krunic arrives from Empoli. And in recent days a deal has been struck for highly-rated Portugal Under-21 forward Rafael Leao who scored eight goals in 26 games for Lille last term.

After years of spending chaos that contributed little in terms of league improvement, Giampaolo spoke earlier in the summer of needing to “give this team a solid identity”.

Flexing their financial muscle has not worked, with 13 new players arriving a year ago, while high-profile arrivals such as Carlos Bacca, Luiz Adriano, Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva and Gonzalo Higuain have all flattered to deceive.

Milan have finished 5th, 6th, 6th and 7th in the last four seasons and the seven-time European champions head into a sixth campaign devoid of Champions League football.

Stability in the dugout would also assist greatly. Since Massimiliano Allegri was dismissed in 2014 and subsequently went on to further cement Juventus’ grip on Italy, seven coaches have come and gone.

The club, fans and manager alike will be hoping Marco can mark his mark.

LAST CHANCE TO SHINE

ScottMcTominayUnitedHuddersfield (1)

The Red Devils remain in with a chance of winning the International Champions Cup. For that they’ll of course care very little, but what will be a source of pride is finishing pre-season unbeaten.

And what is of huge significance is honing fitness, tactics and form ahead of the first game of the 2019/20 season against Chelsea next weekend.

It’s a big test against a big team on a big stage – with several of the side’s emerging stars hoping for another big performance to push themselves into Solskjaer’s plans – if they are not part of them already.

Can Scott McTominay earn a starting spot for the game against Frank Lamaprd’s Blues? The Scot has soared in the last 12 months, his rise almost unbelievable as he has forced himself into the reckoning under, first Jose Mourinho, and now the Norwegian.

He’s not that skilful, nor a plunderer of goals. He’s not flash and will never be one of the most talented players on the team. But he’s a grafter, is seemingly willing to work harder than most and has a mature head on his shoulders – he’s 22 but spoke following the 1-0 win against Kristiansund last time out of wanting to assume more responsibility.

“Where I want to get to is being that player in the team where you’re a leader, you’re the one telling people. You’re driving the standards,” said the Scot.

As well as a maturity beyond his years, McTominay’s energy, athleticism and voracious work ethic have seen him stand out among superstars. And his performances in pre-season – he was excellent against Solskjaer’s home town team – give him legitimate cause for a starting central midfield role in place of Nemanja Matic.

Elsewhere, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will want to keep on impressing and perhaps stake their claim for that starting central striking role. Daniel James and Mason Greenwood are two more young guns who’ve made their mark in the previous five games. It could be the case that both are fighting each other for the right to start on the right side of attack against Chelsea.

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