Premier League preview: Can Ole's rebuild take Manchester United back to Champions League?

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, Old Trafford has witnessed an overhaul of managerial changes  yet none of them could live up to the lofty expectations. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the wheel, fans go into the season with renewed hope and vigour.

Premier League preview: Can Ole's rebuild take Manchester United back to Champions League?

Having laboured through to a sixth-place finish last season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces an uphill task as Manchester United aims to break into the Premier League’s top-four. 

In the past five seasons, the Red Devils have finished only twice in the top-four, of which a second-place finish in the 2017-18 season saw them finish a mighty 19 points adrift of champion Manchester City. 

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013, Old Trafford has witnessed an overhaul of managerial changes — David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho —  yet none of them could live up to the lofty expectations. With Solskjaer at the wheel, fans go into the season with renewed hope and vigour.

Solskjear’s build-up to this season’s top-four target has seen a handful of exits and arrivals, of which the £80 million record signing of Harry Maguire remains the highlight of United’s transfer window.

Defensive reinforcement

Roped in from Leicester City, Maguire’s addition at the heart of United’s defence could strengthen the back-four as the English defender brings with him his aerial prowess and the skill to carry the ball out from the back.

While the hefty price tag and the late addition to the squad do raise eyebrows, the 26-year-old’s signing provides a fresh inclusion in United’s defence, which has been subpar at best.

Joining Maguire among the new recruits are youngsters Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James from Crystal Palace and Swansea City. Signed for a £50 million deal, right-back Wan-Bissaka has impressed early into his arrival with his performance in the pre-season, showcasing his abilities in executing clean tackles, and willingness to move up the pitch. As for James, who switched clubs in a £15 million deal, his “exceptional pace and work ethic”, as boss Solskjear says, could benefit the team.

Player departures and possible sales

Among the players who bid goodbye to Old Trafford this season were Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain), Kieran O’Hara (Burton Albion), Regan Poole (Milton Keynes Dons), Antonio Valencia (LDU Quito) and Matthew Killock (Gillingham). United didn’t sign a replacement for Herrera, who sealed a five-year deal with the Ligue 1 giant as a free agent. The English side has instead decided to look to Scott McTominay and Andreas Perreira, who will be given at least 20 games this season, according to Ole.

With no big-name signing upfront, concerns arise for the 13-time PL winner. The absence of a real winger or wide forward option on the right could hurt the team, whose attack is dependent on its left side. 

While Romelu Lukaku is all but certain to don a new jersey for the upcoming season, Paul Pogba’s urge for a move away from Manchester remains unfulfilled. This puts the Frenchman and his boss in an odd situation wherein neither of the two are happy to be together, making the job tougher for Solskjaer. 

However, what the Norwegian can control and must ensure is that the team performs as a unit. With talent at his disposal in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw and others, a system wherein the team functions as a whole, could perhaps help Solskjear in his quest for a top-four berth.

 

Manchester United's transfer activity

IN: Daniel James (£15m, Swansea), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£45m, Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (£85m, Leicester)
OUT: Antonio Valencia (free, EDU Quito), Ander Herrera (free, PSG), Regan Poole (free, MK Dons), Matty Willock (free, Gillingham), Matthew Olosunde (free, Rotherham), James Wilson (free, Aberdeen), Josh Bohui (free, NAC Breda), Dean Henderson (loan, Sheffield United), Kieran O’Hara (loan, Burton), Millen Baars, Zak Dearnley, Callum Gribbin, DJ Buffonge, Thomas Sang, Tyrell Warren, Callum Whelan (all released)

 

Premier League Fixtures

August 11: Manchester United v Chelsea

August 17: Wolves v Manchester United

August 24: Manchester United v Crystal Palace

August 31: Southampton v Manchester United

September 14: Manchester United v Leicester City

September 21: West Ham United v Manchester United

September 28: Manchester United v Arsenal

October 5: Newcastle United v Manchester United

October 19: Manchester United v Liverpool

October 26: Norwich City v Manchester United

November 2: Bournemouth v Manchester United

November 9: Manchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion

November 23: Sheffield United v Manchester United

November 30: Manchester United v Aston Villa

December 3: Manchester United v Tottenham

December 7: Manchester City v Manchester United

December 14: Manchester United v Everton

December 21: Watford v Manchester United

December 26: Manchester United v Newcastle United

December 28: Burnley v Manchester United

January 1: Arsenal v Manchester United

January 11: Manchester United v Norwich City

January 18: Liverpool v Manchester United

January 21: Manchester United v Burnley

February 1: Manchester United v Wolves

February 8: Chelsea v Manchester United

February 22: Manchester United v Watford

February 29: Everton v Manchester United

March 7: Manchester United v Manchester City

March 14: Tottenham v Manchester United

March 21: Manchester United v Sheffield United

April 4: Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United

April 11: Manchester United v Bournemouth

April 18: Aston Villa v Manchester United

April 25: Manchester United v Southampton

May 2: Crystal Palace v Manchester United

May 9: Manchester United v West Ham United

May 17: Leicester City v Manchester United