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.
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.
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
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