Manchester United experienced an eventful transfer window in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first summer at the club. The Red Devils experienced mixed fortunes as they managed to complete some good business but failed to acquire the signatures of a couple of big names who were linked.
Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James arrived while Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia, and Romelu Lukaku departed. United’s attempt to rope in Paulo Dybala to bolster the front-line failed to bear fruit.
Did United enjoy a great window? Is the squad now well-equipped to take on the challenges in the new season?
A 4-0 win at home to Chelsea in their season-opener provided a few answers but we take a closer look at each department and grade them based on quality and depth.
Goalkeepers – B+
Two years ago, David de Gea could claim to be the best goalkeeper in the world. But the Spaniard was error-prone at times last season. He did stand guard behind a very shaky defence but some of his errors were inexcusable.
That said, the wider evidence suggests he is still one of the best in Europe and among the top three in the Premier League. The additions in front of him will no doubt see the De Gea of old reemerge in 2019/20.
Back-up stopper Sergio Romero barely featured last season, but the Argentine is arguably the best back-up goalkeeper in the English top-flight.
Defence – B
The back-line was the most improved with the arrivals of Maguire and Wan-Bissaka. While defences as messy as United’s were last season can’t transform overnight, the Red Devils have made great signings and are now on the right path.
Maguire and Victor Lindelof will be claiming the starter’s spots in central defence in all likelihood but a fully fit Eric Bailly could offer some competition to the latter.
Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones form the band of back-up centre-backs along with the Ivory Coast international. These players are either past their prime or were never at the required level from the beginning. The promising Axel Tuanzebe though could prove to be a big boost in this area after an impressive pre-season showing followed an outstanding season on loan at Aston Villa.
The Red Devils boast of an able pair of first-choice full-backs in Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw. The back-up for the former, Diogo Dalot displayed great potential last season and provides cover. However, the lack of options beyond him is obvious. An ageing Ashley Young must step up his game to fill in for Shaw when required.
Midfield – C+
The midfield can be a C+ or even a B, depending on which version of Paul Pogba graces the pitch. At his best, the Frenchman is among the top-five midfielders in the world and can elevate the quality of any team. But he can also go missing in games.
Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira are favourites to partner him in midfield, assuming Solskjaer has set his mind on grooming the youngsters and forcing the likes of Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata to play second fiddle. Fred will also offer depth in central midfield as the Brazilian has not done much good to his chances of landing a starter’s role.
United are lacking creativity beyond Pogba. The rumoured transfer of Christian Eriksen was hence more of a necessity than luxury and the Red Devils should have pursued the Denmark international with more conviction.
The defensive aspect of the midfield is secured by McTominay with Matic as cover but an injury to Pogba could see United suffer in an attacking sense.
Attackers – B
United’s attack, much like it’s midfield, is hit and miss. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have quality but lack consistency. The duo can comfortably score a brace against a top team but fail to keep a healthy goal-scoring streak.
James showed promise while at Swansea and scored a goal against Chelsea on his debut as a United player. The Welshman has the potential to make the right-wing role his own.
Mason Greenwood and Alexis Sanchez add to the depth in attack. The former can certainly develop into a key player in the future.
Sanchez starred at Arsenal but has failed to establish himself at his new club. He may still have the quality to turn around his fortunes and showed that with a couple of decent games during the Copa America.
United’s attack is well-equipped to create all sorts of trouble for the opposition but the lack of a prolific goal-scorer is alarming
Leicester defender Jonny Evans has backed Harry Maguire to be a Manchester United hit and believes he can have a similar impact to Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
England international Maguire joined United from Leicester for £80 million last week, a world record for a defender.
Van Dijk helped Liverpool win the Champions League and finish second in the Premier League last season after his £75m move from Southampton in January 2018.
United kept their first clean sheet since February in Maguire’s debut on Sunday, a 4-0 win over Chelsea, and Evans – who won three titles at Old Trafford – tipped him for success.
“You can see comparisons in their games (Maguire and Van Dijk), both are great on the ball, and Harry has got explosive pace people don’t see,” he said.
“He is powerful, good in the air…Everyone will compare the transfer fees but it’s so difficult to judge transfer fees nowadays.
“We are all human and it is weird we get traded for money. In the transfer market it’s all supply and demand and things can go up and down at any moment.
“The most important thing is for him to be judged on how he plays. I don’t have any worries about him there.
“He is tailor-made for Man United, it was a great move for him. He’s a player they needed.
“He’s got a really likeable nature about him. He will be a real hit there, he is a fantastic player.”
Evans also insisted VAR will be a success after it disallowed Leander Dendoncker’s second-half strike in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Wolves.
The midfielder’s initial header hit team-mate Willy Boly on the arm before he fired in. It took 98 seconds to disallow the goal but Evans believes VAR will work.
“They came up with the right decision, we’ve been told VAR won’t step in unless it’s a clear decision the referee has missed so for them to overrule the referee it must be the right call,” he said.
“A few of the Wolves players were still trying to debate the decision afterwards and you’re saying ‘we’ve got VAR, that’s what it’s for.’ It made the right decision and done its job.”
Wolves are now preparing for Thursday’s Europa League third qualifying round second leg with FC Pyunik after their 4-0 win in Armenia last week.
“It is fantastic and brilliant. For us as a football club, the games we have coming up is incredible,” said captain Conor Coady.
“We have Europe on Thursday and Manchester United on Monday.
“What more do you want for a football club? We are excited for it and will make sure we are ready for it.”
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Salford part-owners Paul Scholes and Phil Neville hope Tuesday night’s home Carabao Cup clash with Leeds provides a taste of what lies ahead for the club.
The Ammies are gearing up for one of the biggest games in the club’s history and former Manchester United stars Scholes and Neville are relishing the first-round tie.
England Women coach Neville told PA: “It is a big game. It’s probably the biggest team we’ve ever had, played against or had to the Peninsula Stadium.
“It’s the type of night we want, it’s the type of team we want to be playing against.”
Salford are co-owned by businessman Peter Lim, who has a 40 per cent stake, plus Phil and Gary Neville, Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt, who have 10 per cent each.
They won promotion to the English Football League for the first time last season after beating Fylde 3-0 in the National League play-off final at Wembley.
Since the ‘Class of 92’ bought shares in 2014, Salford have won promotion four times, and Scholes has lofty ambitions for the club.
“Where do we go the next five or 10 years? Who knows?” Scholes told PA. “I know it’s a long way off, but the target has to be getting to the Premier League at some point.
“We want the big games like Leeds. I don’t think in the whole draw we could have got a bigger or better club, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Scholes and Neville were speaking as TalkTalk and Salford celebrated a new five-year partnership, with fellow part-owners Giggs and Gary Neville also in attendance.
Eight other League Two clubs are bidding to upset Championship opposition on Tuesday.
Scunthorpe and Bradford have home advantage against Derby and Preston respectively, while Scholes’ former club Oldham travel to local rivals Blackburn and Carlisle play at Barnsley.
Cambridge travel to Brentford, Forest Green take on Charlton, Crewe play at Middlesbrough and Northampton are at Swansea.
AFC Wimbledon’s home clash with MK Dons is another stand out fixture, while Huddersfield and Hull face tricky ties against newly-promoted League One sides Lincoln and Tranmere respectively.
All-Championship ties include QPR v Bristol City, West Brom v Millwall and Wigan v Stoke.
Burton, who caused a string of upsets in last season’s competition before losing 10-0 on aggregate to eventual winners Manchester City in the semi-finals, travel to Port Vale.