Manchester United fans head into the 2019/20 season in buoyant mood. Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been signed to plug a leaky defence.
The duo, alongside Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof, as well as David De Gea, now all of a sudden look ship shape as opposed to a shipwreck last term.
Daniel James also provides a speedy asset up top, building into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s blueprint to set his side up as a fluent, rapid attack that presses their opponents high up the pitch, which bodes well. Something that will also have pleased the boss in the build-up to the new campaign.
Pre-season has been positive – United won all six of their games (five victories against Perth Glory, Leeds United, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Kristiansund, and one draw, albeit they did overcome AC Milan on penalties in their final clash). And they head into their Premier League opener on Sunday at home to Chelsea in good form.
In the latest of our looks at how United’s players performed during pre-season we take a look at how their new-look defence is shaping up.
DIOGO DALOT 6
Had a promising few outings Down Under and in the Far East – although his end product remains erratic – but then didn’t feature in the last two games against Kristiansund and AC Milan.
Showed plenty of promise in his debut season last year, albeit as a threatening winger as opposed to the marauding full-back Jose Mourinho plucked from Porto.
A bright prospect but his best hope for the season ahead is furthering his development and working hard on the defensive side of his game, because he’s surely going to be Wan-Bissaka’s back-up, with the young England man having enjoyed a scorching start to life at United.
AARON WAN-BISSAKA 9
Speak of the (Red) Devil. This grade could easily have been a 10 but we like to save double figures for a special occasion. United certainly have a special talent on their hands – with the 21-year-old pretty much flawless during his formative steps as a United player.
‘Spider’, a nicknamed coined at Crystal Palace, wrapped numerous opponents up in his web with multiple successful and eye-catching tackles, while his speed and reaction if anyone does manage to get past him impressing.
It will fill United fans’ hearts with joy they’ve acquired someone who simply seems to love defending. In addition, he also looked excellent going forward – one part of his game lacking during a breakout 2018/19 season with Palace – and he laid on a fine assist for Mason Greenwood’s goal against Leeds.
LUKE SHAW 8
Fans and critics are quick to judge Shaw for his admittedly tardy end to the season, although the bandwagoners seem to think the Southampton product’s only game last season was the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield – in which his fitness, or lack thereof, was culpable in Isaac Mbenza’s equaliser.
Most people felt he was lucky to earn the club’s Player of the Year award last term – despite the fact he was the most consistent performer in a creaking United defence, and collected three Player of the Month awards during the season’s nine months.
His frame and fitness are always going to be used as barbs to beat him with, but Shaw has looked lean and mean this summer, with his forays forward and attacking attributes on display as well as an improvement in defensive awareness and intelligence.
VICTOR LINDELOF 7
A commanding 2018/19 season and lively pre-season make memories of a troubling debut offering in red two terms ago a fleeting memory.
Many thought he would have been a more deserving recipient of United’s Player of the Year last season, with the Swede enjoying a quietly excellent campaign after a stellar World Cup with his nation, who reached the last 16 in Russia.
Nicknamed the Iceman, Lindelof was often coolness personified during pre-season, despite the unforgiving heat of the Far East – a marauding 70 metre run up field against Leeds culminating in a smart pass to Marcus Rashford who thudded an effort off the post giving a glimpse of Lindelof’s all-round game.
Looked head and shoulders above any other centre-back on tour and should flourish alongside new man Maguire.
ERIC BAILLY 3
Showed promising signs in the early throes of pre-season before, predictably, the inevitable injury cropped up. Did well against Leeds and was sharp against Inter too before worryingly hobbling off just 10 minutes after coming on at half-time against Spurs.
The concern this time for the Ivorian is, it is a serious one, he’s likely out until Christmas. With United having since signed Maguire from Leicester, plus Axel Tuanzebe’s emergence during the summer as well as a fine first full season at senior level under his belt at Aston Villa, his Old Trafford future appears increasingly uncertain.
PHIL JONES 6
More known for his gurning than the games he has impressed in his latter United years, but for all the ridicule he faces, Jones can never be found lacking in terms of effort and attitude.
Looked sharp in the sweltering heat of Singapore and Shanghai and scored a towering header in the 4-0 lashing of Leeds. Will play second fiddle now behind Maguire and Lindelof but a dependable cover option is exactly what you envisage Jones being admirable at.
Won’t have the pressure heaped on him by needing to play a string of games – something he clearly can’t do – but Solskjaer won’t hesitate to call upon him if required.
CHRIS SMALLING 5
Another figure of fun at Old Trafford despite having always been a solid option for United during what is nearing 10 years of service. Smalling’s one fatal flaw has always seemed to be he’s not an elite defender, which has led to much criticism during a fallow period for the club since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Like Jones, will take a back seat now with Maguire and Lindelof expected to be the preferred central duo, which might suit him. Interestingly, started just one game during pre-season – the 2-1 victory against Spurs – with Tuanzebe normally preferred. Didn’t put a foot wrong but also didn’t feature in three of the six games either.
MARCOS ROJO 4
Smalling, Jones and Shaw have their detractors – whether that’s totally fair or not is up for debate. But, honestly, how erratic Argentine Rojo remains a United player is beyond comprehension.
Errant, reckless, undisciplined and un-coordinated, he is so far away from being fit for purpose that labelling him a liability is a kindness. The only reason he has been dragged up to a 4 was due to a decent outing in the final friendly last Saturday against the Rossoneri.
AXEL TUANZEBE 8
A fine first full season at senior level was enjoyed in the school of hard knocks that is the Championship. Tuanzebe excelled and played a huge role in Aston Villa’s promotion back to the Premier League, featuring in 25 league games for the Villains, and starting all but one of them.
New-found confidence shone like a beam emanating from a lighthouse this summer with the 21-year-old looking commanding and quick while his increased physicality was a standout feature.
Looked comfortable on the ball and it will be interesting to see how much playing time he sees under Solskjaer.
Although Maguire and Lindelof will be the starting pair, Tuanzebe might well have developed and impressed enough to get the nod as No3 centre-back.
ASHLEY YOUNG 5
Now club captain but with the acquisition – and excellence – of Wan-Bissaka the veteran will see his playing time curtailed this term.
The converted winger, 34, has never let United or the fans down, and surely won’t when called upon this season. Linked up well with Dan James in the opening game against Perth but was then caught on the ball against Leeds and unsurprisingly was at the centre of a scuffle that ensued when he put in a thundering challenge on Adam Forshaw.
What United wouldn’t give for every other player to show his passion and fight though.
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