2019/20 Manchester United Premier League preview
Background Image Via: Daniel/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 4.0.
As Manchester United fans will know all-too-well, there is no Champions League football on the cards for the 2019/20 campaign. Despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's early-season heroics the team couldn't maintain the energy-levels that's required to play in the Baby Faced Assassin's high-paced system. Jose Mourinho's defence-first attitude is still taking its toll, eh...?
I feel like I've been saying this every summer for the last half-decade, but this off-season was crucial for the 20-time Premier League champions - in more ways than one. United have made moves in the transfer market, more on that later. I'd like to begin with their flawless pre-season. Six wins from six (albeit the last one coming on penalties), sends the squad, coaches and staff members into the campaign on a serious high note. That dressing room will be bouncing, those players will be feeling confident, Solskjaer, although he'll have one eye on deadline day, will know the team that'll take to the field against Chelsea this Sunday. It's crucial to get off to a good start.
David de Gea has been the Red Devils' best, most consistent player in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. An end of season dip in form could be directly correlated to his long-term future remaining up in the air. The superstar Spaniard will be a free agent in twelve months time, though he has looked good while on tour. Thankfully for United, the club have been excellent when it comes to choosing their goalkeepers. Sergio Romero is an excellent back-up, Lee Grant isn't to be forgotten about, either...
Outfield stars are sparse for United. Paul Pogba was statistically exceptional in 2018/19, sixteen goals (half of which were penalties) and eleven assists paper over the cracks somewhat. That said, you cannot deny his influence, talent and on-field presence. Solskjaer desperately needs Pogba to stay if he plans on having a successful season. Defensively, Victor Lindelof is the standout although Luke Shaw was named United's Player of the Year, while Marcus Rashford simply has to kick it up a notch. The Wythenshawe-born-forward needs a 20+ goal campaign if he's to lead the line on a regular basis.
For United, it's about the emergence of youth. Mason Greenwood looked incredible on pre-season tour, as did Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong. Axel Tuanzebe returns from a stellar loan spell at Aston Villa. He has a major role to play this time around. Solskjaer has to be bold, he has stand by the courage of his conviction and stick with what worked so well over the summer.
It has been a relatively quiet summer for United. Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia and James Wilson all walked away on free transfers. It's more about the players that didn't leave. Romelu Lukaku clearly doesn't want to be here, the fans aren't keen on the prospect of seeing Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones (and many others) in the famous red jersey again - though they may be left with no choice.
The marquee addition is Harry Maguire. The most expensive defender in the world will be tasked with not only improving the backline through his ability, but also about his on-field leadership and commanding presence. 'Slabhead' is here to usher in the dawning of a new era, though his £80m price-tag will loom large. He'll have help, too. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has arrived from Crystal Palace, his perfect timing of the tackle has already been on full display. The Spider will play his part in reducing the 54 league goals shipped by United in 2018/19. Daniel James was actually Solskjaer's first signing in the Old Trafford dugout. The Wales international has electric pace, though he will need time to grow and improve before we see his full capabilities.
Make no mistake about it. Solskjaer is under serious pressure. After all, no club has spent more than United this summer, though there's still much work to be done to fix that squad. The Red Devils' aim will be to secure a top-four finish, which is easier said than done given there's likely only one spot up for grabs between United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Earn your place in the Champions League for the 2020/21 term and anything else is a bonus. I wouldn't bet against a deep run in a cup competition...
We've touched upon it, but Chelsea come to town on the Premier League's opening weekend. This will be the perfect barometer for Solskjaer to work out how far they've come. Win, it sends out a real message to a direct rival. Lose, well, we've already seen how weak-minded this current United squad is. I don't think it's an understatement to say that a loss here could be detrimental to Solskjaer's success in his first full season at the helm.
After Chelsea, a tricky trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers follows. Then comes a couple of must-win matches against Crystal Palace and Southampton before another challenging set of fixtures follow. At this level, no game is easy, but a fast start is crucial for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United.