Season preview: Manchester United

Manchester United need a fresh lick of paint and new set of wheels, again. And now with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer entering his first full season as manager, United have a lot to develop and improve on from what was an overall underwhelming previous campaign.

After replacing Jose Mourinho at the helm, Solskjaer enjoyed a positive first few months, gaining ground on the race for top four, getting good form out of key players and winning key games.

Read also the other parts of our season preview!


Manchester United season preview

But, good form and luck always comes to an end varying issues plagued United as the season reached its closing stages, with exits from the Champions League and The FA Cup, as well as poor performances in the Premier League which played it’s part in United finishing outside of the top four.

But, now is an opportunity for a fresh start with new ideas and new players to bolster the team, even if will take time to meet expectations.

To begin, let’s break down Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

– First managed Manchester United’s reserves for three years before moving to Molde and then Cardiff City during their first stint in the Premier League before returning to Molde, before finally taking over as manager of United’s first team.

– Likes to play quick, transition based football. Will certainly try to incorporate width heavily into how United attack. Will want United to be somewhat expansive in possession, too.

– Solskjaer will also make fair use of prospects at United’s disposal; forward Mason Greenwood, centre-back Axel Tuanzebe, winger Tahith Chong and attacking midfielder Angel Gomes played a decent amount of football during United’s pre-season tour.

How good was the transfer window?

United have made three signings this summer. Daniel James kicked things off in a £15m transfer from Swansea City, which was then followed by signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace for £50m, and then even bigger funds captured Leicester City’s Harry Maguire in a world record £80m fee for a defender.

Daniel James is an ideal signing for the long-term considering his age and how he is, and how he suits Solskjaer’s tactics. Solskjaer wants to incorporate width to United’s attack, and in this sense, James is a more suitable option out wide than Juan Mata, for example.

A very quick winger who can play on the right or left, James is suited for a side who look to switch from defence to attack quickly. This United has a fair amount of pace to it and James will fit right in.

United do not have many out and out wingers, so Daniel James may be a regular feature like he was during pre-season, in that this United side will look to have decent width as part of its armoury.

Manchester United Transfers

United needed to bolster their options at right-back with a promising yet defensively unrefined Diogo Dalot and ageing Ashley Young as the primary choices, and they bought the perfect acquisition in Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

A very balanced full-back, but is particularly impressive from a defensive standpoint. Wan-Bissaka offers excellent positioning and last season was rarely dribbled past, completing 129 tackles.

Wan-Bissaka’s speed in transitions will also enable the right-back to offer support for the centre-backs when United defend against opposition counters.

Wan-Bissaka is also useful in an offensive sense, and for Crystal Palace, Wan-Bissaka played his part in counter-attacks; in a 0-2 win against Fulham, Wan-Bissaka made a run on the right-side and set-up Wilfred Zaha in the lead up to Palace’s second goal.

Wan-Bissaka will offer both the pace to overlap effectively; Wan-Bissaka was also a winger at youth level before switching to full-back, and create overloads in wide areas as United attack.

Wan-Bissaka Dribbling

The interesting matter is how Wan-Bissaka will adapt to a different styles of football. Solskjaer’s United will aim to use more of the ball than Palace and build from the back, so Wan-Bissaka will have more of the ball in deeper areas of the pitch.

United’s shape is flexible and will see both full-backs tuck inside to assist build-up in central areas and dominate the midfield whilst allowing wingers etc. to move further forward.

And from a defensive point of view, United will not look to defend deep in the way Crystal Palace did last season, instead pressing high and tightly against the opposing defence/midfield.

Of all the signings United have made, Harry Maguire was arguably the most necessary. Much of the issues United faced last season were issues with their defence; lack of connection between defence and attack, poor structure and not defending well against counter-attacks.

Not only getting used to Solskjaer’s tactics, but also Harry Maguire could sort much of the issues with United’s defence from last season, both with and without the ball.

Unlike other centre-backs at United’s disposal, Maguire is adept with the ball in various ways, most importantly at carrying the ball from defence into midfield. Maguire can beat a high press (which is important with pressing being such a big part of modern football) and allow play to progress into midfield.

Maguire completed 17 take ons last season, more than any of United’s other centre-backs.

With United playing higher up the pitch, attackers will look to receive the ball from deeper positions, and Maguire was notable for doing so at Leicester. In an excellent 3-0 win against Arsenal, Leicester’s centre-backs also had the option to play diagonal passes into the wide areas, as the full-backs pushed high up the pitch.

Arsenal’s wide midfielders offered little threat in transitions, so the full-backs had the opportunity to move forward. And last season, Maguire completed 191 accurate long balls.

This sort of switch from deep would suit United’s forwards who will look to receive the ball on the run/turn or in space.

Maguire not only offers variety in how to break down opposition defences, but also in how United could set-up. Although likely to set up in a flexible 4-2-3-1, Maguire excelled in a back three system for England during the 2018 World Cup.

Manchester United Aufstellung

Solskjaer tangled with a back three last season, although it may be executed better this time around with a revamped backline. Maguire can command a backline, and these sort of leadership qualities are just what United need in terms of finding cohesion and structure to their defence.

Will Paul Pogba stay?

Speculation has surrounded Paul Pogba as to whether or not he will leave Manchester United in this transfer window.

Mostly linked with Real Madrid, it seems the La Liga side were interested in buying, but due to the spending spree earlier in the summer, it would be very difficult to afford Pogba.

Ajax Donny van de Beek has been identified as an alternative, whilst a) Solskjaer has stated that Pogba is certain to stay and b) Can United honestly afford to sell Pogba? United would struggle in a creative sense without Pogba and with little time to sign a replacement – albeit United have reportedly made a late bit for Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen, it would be silly to sell.

If you manage to keep Paul Pogba in a good mood, the Red Devils have the chance to attack the top four.

Especially behind Manchester City, Liverpool and the Spurs the chasing field is open like never before. The high expenses and rumours about players like Dybala and Bruno Fernandes raise hopes among the fans and cause a lot of criticism on the other hand.

The high sums for Maguire and Wan-Bissaka are only a few words: Both are ready Premier League players, know the league and are homegrown. Quality has its price and Manchester United has often had problems with players from other leagues in the past and had problems adapting.

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, this season will probably be the most important of his young coaching career.

A text by Ryan Quinn from “The Conventional Playmaker”. Make sure you follow him on Twitter: @Quinntactics

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