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.
That 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.
Here, we take a look at just how well the United players performed over the summer. Starting with the men between the sticks:
DAVID DE GEA 6
After an alarming drop-off in his previously impeccable high standards during 2018/19, the Spaniard has an important season ahead of him.
But a solid showing during pre-season and the security of a bumper new contract – believed to be £350,000 and which he was supposedly due to sign when returning from the Far East – is a good foundation from which to build.
Love and support from Solskjaer and the United coaching staff down a torrid home straight last term is believed to have been a big reason behind De Gea’s desire to stay.
‘Dave Saves’ is a popular United flag that can be seen draped in the Stretford End at home games. Now he has his future in his own hands, literally. He has to rediscover the form that made him the best of the best.
SERGIO ROMERO 6
The safest second pair of hands in the business did what he does during pre-season, be dependable. An underrated goalkeeper, he could easily be a No1 at a big European club, but seems content at Old Trafford.
Started against Perth and Leeds as De Gea was rested and then recovered from illness, after which he came off the bench against Inter, Tottenham and Kristiansund.
Made a stunning save from Patrick Bamford in the Leeds game – proving once more that when called upon he’s far more than just a prop sat on a bench.
JOEL PEREIRA 5
Replaced Romero at half-time in both opening games against Perth and Leeds, but then saw no further action once De Gea returned to the fold. Had one or two uncomfortable moments against Perth but generally did well.
The interesting decision for him and the club is whether he goes out on loan again this season to further develop, or sticks around and ousts Lee Grant as the No3.
Romelu Lukaku is on the brink of joining Inter Milan from Manchester United – a move club greats Phil Neville, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes will not be shedding a tear about.
Two years after his big-money arrival from Everton, the 26-year-old is departing for Serie A in a deal that PA understands could reach 80 million euros (£73.75million).
United have included a sell-on clause as part of a deal that is close to being completed after Lukaku arrived in Milan overnight to complete paperwork and a medical.
The exit has been long a time coming and a rather uncomfortable process, with a number of United favourites believing the deal is for the best.
Phil Neville told PA: “He started well, didn’t he? He started well.
“I’ll be honest with you, I never felt as if he was a United centre forward. That was my feeling.
“But he started well, then obviously he lost a little bit of confidence and then found it difficult to get back up to form.
“I think there was always that feeling of was he fit enough? And was his style suited to playing football for Manchester United? That was my question.
“He’ll always score goals wherever he goes. He’ll score goals for Inter Milan.
“But the way you want to play, you’ve got to fit the right people on the bus and Romelu Lukaku was never that person.”
Neville was speaking as TalkTalk celebrated a new five-year partnership with Salford City, with fellow part-owners Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville also in attendance.
The latter was pretty cutting in his assessment of Lukaku in a Twitter post sent before the event.
“He admitted he was overweight!” Gary Neville wrote. “He is over 100kg! He’s a Manchester United player! He will score goals and do well at Inter Milan but unprofessionalism is contagious.”
While not as pointed, Scholes does not believe Lukaku suited former team-mate Solskjaer’s style.
“I don’t think he was suited to Ole either,” the former United midfielder said.
“Ole wants someone with a bit of energy, a bit of speed, someone who is going to work hard (but) he’ll score goals.”
Lukaku could be followed out of the exit door on deadline day by defender Marcos Rojo. PA understands talks have been held with Everton about a loan deal for the Argentina international, who has dropped further down the pecking order following the record-breaking acquisition of Harry Maguire from Leicester.
A number of younger players could also be making temporary exits, but incomings look increasingly unlikely as the clock winds down.
Hope of a possible deal for Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic is dimming. Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James are United’s only first-team acquisitions this summer, while Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera left at the end of their contracts.
Marouane Fellaini joined Chinese side Shandong Luneng at the start of the year.
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Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is said to be reluctant to sell Eriksen to a direct rival with an overseas buyer his preferred destination for the midfielder.
According to Spanish daily AS, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are keeping tabs on Eriksen’s situation.
While it is no secret that Zinedine Zidane is desperate to bring Manchester United man Paul Pogba to the Spanish capital, speculation surrounding a move for last season’s Ajax breakout Donny van de Beek has intensified in recent days.
However, AS say Madrid have kept in contact with Eriksen’s representatives in case a deal for Pogba – which is looking increasingly unlikely – falls through.
Spurs risk losing Eriksen, who has scored 49 times in 206 Premier League appearances, on a free next summer with his contract running down.
Tottenham – who are looking to secure Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso as a potential replacement – face a decision on whether to accept a higher transfer fee from United, or sell him to a club outside of England.
Sides outside the Premier League are expected to lodge bids under the £50m mark, while United were apparently quoted £130m earlier this year, though the dynamic has changed drastically since then.
It is understood that Real remains Eriksen’s clear No1 choice, though, The Independent report that he is ‘seriously’ considering the offer from Manchester.
Another player with an uncertain future is United striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian was pictured training with Anderlecht’s youth team on a day off on Monday.
He is expected to leave Old Trafford with Juventus keen on a move, although that switch has been complicated after Paulo Dybala shunned being used in a potential swap-deal.
Serie A rivals Inter Milan have had bids rejected for Lukaku and are still interested, but it remains to be seen as to whether they can afford the £75 million-plus United are looking for.