Man United pre-season: Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial must step up with Romelu Lukaku gone

Matt Jones 9/08/2019
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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 articles on the United players, we take a look at just how well the forwards performed over the summer.

FORWARDS

JESSE LINGARD 7

Lingard (2)

One of, if not the most, reviled figures at the club – admonished for his bubbly and boyish behaviour, with his accusers claiming he cares more about his Instagram following than his impression on this United team.

Pre-season didn’t begin brightly either as he was believed to have received a dressing down from Solskjaer upon his return for an infamous video he filmed of a friend joking around while on holiday.

But for all the hate he attracts, Lingard is said to have responded by putting in a series of outstanding performances in training and been one of the most impressive performers among the squad this summer. The England international finished either top, or close to it, in many of the individual tasks.

Unlike his personal life, Lingard went about his business quietly as he impressed with his energy and insight on the pitch too.

Lingard’s tagline for his clothing line is ‘Be Yourself’, so he’s clearly never going to change as a person. The only thing that should concern United fans is how telling his contribution will be in 2019/20.

JUAN MATA 6

Like Smalling and Jones who have recently signed new contracts, eyebrows were raised when the diminutive Spaniard put pen to paper on a new deal. Again, the animosity towards the popular playmaker seems strange as he’s always contributed in five-and-a-half years since signing from Chelsea.

Maybe fans are simply venting and frustrated by the fact his arrival has coincided with the club’s demise, yet that’s hardly the fault of a player who has contributed 45 goals in 218 appearances.

His lack of speed and fragile build are popular misgivings to hang around his neck, yet neither are traits that have ever been associated with his game. Good professionals have been in short supply at United in recent years, and Mata is a positive figure to have around a young group.

Also performed well during the summer.

ANGEL GOMES 8

Angel Gomes wheels away after putting United 2-1 up against Spurs.

Angel Gomes wheels away after putting United 2-1 up against Spurs.

Like Tuanzebe, the 18-year-old is another youngster who’s really seemed to take a leap in the last 12 months. Has previously shown flashes of skill and promise, but this summer the London-born teenager turned that potential into performances – the highlight a stunning bit of individual skill and deadly finish to score a late winner against Spurs in Shanghai.

Having made his United debut on the final day of the 2016/17 season – he was the youngest player since Duncan Edwards to make his first team debut – Gomes has not had many more chances to shine.

But he played 145 minutes in pre-season and looked sharp, Solskjaer will certainly be thinking of thrusting him into his first team plans. Aside from his goal against Spurs he shone whenever he took to the field. He was on it a mere eight minutes against Milan and yet twisted Italian defenders inside out and also rocketed in a confident penalty during the shootout.

DANIEL JAMES 8

Dan James

Much like Wan-Bissaka, has been one of the standout stars of United’s pre-season. His raw pace, energy and work-rate are exactly the traits Solskjaer craves from his new-look team, and the young Welshman has all three in abundance.

Meanwhile, his unpredictability is sure to twist Premier League full-backs inside out, while at just 21, James has huge potential for development.

Isn’t the finished product by any means and his decision making and end product need honing, but he’s moved to the right club to further his learning, and Red Devils fans are rightly excited.

TAHITH CHONG 7

Had an underwhelming first outing against Perth but was then excellent against Leeds and Inter Milan – against whom he attracted the attention of the hatchet men.

Earned a penalty against United’s rivals from across the Pennines and was absolutely unplayable against Inter; Milan Skriniar – one of the world’s best defenders – could simply not live with the wiry 19-year-old. The Dutch U21 international could do with hitting the gym, but is another youngster deservedly hoping he can force his way into his manager’s plans over the course of the season.

MASON GREENWOOD 7

Mason Greenwood

Green by name, but certainly not green by nature. Are 17-year-olds supposed to look this accomplished so young? No, they’re not. And while United fans gushing over his pre-season performances need to temper their expectation, Greenwood certainly seems to have the talent and temperament to be the latest young United success story.

With Romelu Lukaku gone and no replacement signed, that tells you how much confidence Solskjaer has in the teenager’s ability. Another who confidently stepped up to score in the shootout win over Milan, Greenwood bagged a thumping winner against inter and also scored a predatory strike against Leeds.

ANTHONY MARTIAL 7

The languid Frenchman, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a slow start to pre-season, but grew into it. He scored a penalty in the 4-0 thrashing of Leeds, though endured a relatively quiet and frustrating game, but he was better after that, linking up well with Pereria for the opening goal against Spurs.

Like Rashford, will surely be buoyed by his prospects this season, with the manager favouring the duo’s fast-paced and tricky skillsets instead of the battering ram target man Lukaku.

Heads into the new season though with the same question mark hanging over him – can he finally make his mark and make this his team? At just 23, he has the potential to be the player – along with Rashford – that United can be built around for years to come. He just needs to want it and perform week in, week out. The stage is yours Anthony.

MARCUS RASHFORD 8

Marcus Rashford

A huge season beckons for the Wyhenshawe wonderboy who really needs to step up to the next level. A precocious talent who’s developed admirably since his stunning debut against Midtjylland in the Europa League three years ago, but it’s now time for Rashford to make a quantum leap because questions persist about how good he can actually become.

Some criticism is harsh – he is after all still only 21 and has more senior goals at this stage of his career than Alan Shearer and Andy Cole at the same time.

But musings about just how high his ceiling is are also fair. He has craved United’s premier striker role and a lucrative new £200,000 per week contract – plus Solskjaer’s favouring of him over Lukaku – suggests he will fully get his chance to be the star this season.

It is one he needs to grab. Has performed in pre-season – three goals and genuinely ferocious performances – that he is ready.

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Man United pre-season: Solskjaer's midfield minefield, does he choose Matic or McTominay?

Matt Jones 9/08/2019
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Scott McTominay enjoyed a fruitful pre-season.

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 this part of the series, we take a look at just how well the United midfielders performed over the summer.

MIDFIELDERS

PAUL POGBA 7

PaulPogbaManUnited (1)

He wants to leave, but to be fair to the Frenchman he certainly hasn’t played like it in pre-season – he was nothing short of sublime in dominating performances against Leeds, Inter Milan and Tottenham.

How unhappy he is to remain at Old Trafford is up for debate. But with Real Madrid unable to come up with the dough United demand and this season a prelude to next summer’s European Championships, there shouldn’t be any need for United fans to panic about how much effort Pogba will put into the 2019/20 campaign.

Besides, with all the positivity surrounding their summer, plus the addition of some quality players, perhaps Solskjaer can steer the club to some success and that could persuade Pogba his future remains at Old Trafford.

NEMANJA MATIC 4

Matic

Worrying signs of fatigue and decline that rose to the surface last season have stayed very much at the surface during pre-season. There’s no doubt that Matic remains a key figure for Solskjaer. He is a leader and still a fine footballer who can command midfield on his day.

And yet it is abundantly clear that father time is catching up with the former Chelsea man. His passing range remains as sharp as ever – his right-footed arrow into the channel for Rashford that led to the opening goal against Milan in Cardiff was joyous.

And yet his spacial awareness and poise have become beyond ponderous, and this is concerning. In the big games this season he could become a liability.

SCOTT MCTOMINAY 8

Scott McTominay

A diamond was unearthed – probably unknowingly – by Jose Mourinho, although the Portuguese must get some praise for showing faith in the young Scot. He hasn’t really looked back since, and has gone from a rough diamond to a far more polished jewel in the capable hands of Solskjaer.

With Ander Herrera gone, Matic on the wane, Fred needing a big season after a difficult bedding in period and no reinforcements brought into the engine room, United are in need of some muscle and movement in the middle.

Though no great goalscorer or a passing carousel, McTominay offers amazing athleticism, grit, effort and desire. One of United’s standout stars of the summer, he’s deserving of a start against Chelsea and could be in for a big season.

FRED 6

Appeared late in the day after being allowed extra time off this summer to get married. Solskjaer will be hoping the Brazilian also marries obvious hard work and effort with cohesion and consistency this season following an erratic first campaign at Old Trafford.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk dynamo at times looked excellent last year. Most of the time though he had trouble delivering a five-yard pass to a team-mate and struggled badly with the pace of the Premier League.

Put in a few steady performances over the summer. A big season ahead.

ANDREAS PEREIRA 7

Pereira (1)

The Belgium-born Brazilian appears to be on the cusp of a career-defining season at Old Trafford, or was that last year? It was certainly not a spectacular 2018/19 for the 23-year-old, grabbing one goal – although it was a belter – in 22 appearances. His biggest fault yet again though seems to be that he is not an elite operator in a sub-par team.

Has, however, looked hungry and fiery in pre-season, getting into a number of altercations with opposition players as if irked at not yet being a fully established member of this squad.

Looked good throughout the summer, intricately linking defence and attack – with the schemer looking far more effective in an advanced midfield role. His assist to set up Anthony Martial for the opener against Spurs was sublime.

JAMES GARNER 6

Scored a screamer when coming off the bench to replace Luke Shaw against Perth in the opening game of the summer, but curiously played only 12 more minutes, another cameo in the ensuing 4-0 win over Leeds United.

Didn’t travel with the squad to Norway and Wales, but his time will surely come. The England Under-18 midfielder is highly-thought of at the club.

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Man United pre-season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka is star of the summer show as defence is solidified

Matt Jones 8/08/2019
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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.

DEFENDERS

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

AaronWanBissakaManUnited (1)

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

Lindelof

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

Axel Tuanzebe

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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