August 14th, 2021 a new season will begin. Hopes will be renewed at the Theatre of Dreams. Red Devils fans around the world will be filled with excitement and their anticipation will run deep. The players and staff will have new goals in mind and the expectations of their fans will be extremely high. Every year it’s the same. We will hope the team can make a run for number 21 and only time will tell if our hopes will be fulfilled. Although unlike years past, not since 2013 at least, there seems to be a genuine belief and excitement around Manchester United.
With the signings of both Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane already signed, sealed and delivered, fans are ecstatic. Many believe we still need more, but there is still time to get some more signings over the line. Already this has been one of the best transfer windows this team has had in years. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is also entering a new season with even more experience under his belt. Love or hate OGS, he has shown steady improvement in his time at Old Trafford. Without another signing or two, excitement may fade. But, with Varane and Sancho this team does have the capability to make a real run at the ever elusive 21st title.
The Squad so Far
Let’s take a look at who will be representing the first team this season, whether it’s as a star or a squad player. There is still time for United to bring in new players and to sell players. There is also a real possibility that some go out on loan either just before the season begins or shortly after. But, until those things come to pass we can only examine what we currently have to work with. Let’s not forget either that this squad without our newest signings did sit atop the table last Christmas and did finish second. Optimism is high around this squad and it should be.
Current 2021/22 Manchester United First Team:
Of course, as stated previously, this squad may change immensely by seasons start. Many of the younger lads may find themselves out on loan or in the reserves team. While players like Jesse Lingard and Phil Jones could be shipped this summer. I would also anticipate a couple new arrivals. The rumor mill is always buzzing, but take my word for what you will. I believe Kieran Trippier and Ruben Neves will join the squad before the transfer window closes. Lastly, there is the possibility that Paul Pogba leaves as well.
Who Starts? What’s the Lineup?
Alright, this is where things start to get interesting. We all have our own ideas of how the team should lineup this season, but what the fans may desire is often not what the manager prefers. There are a set of players we can essentially just glue right in as automatic starters most matches. Those players include: Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, and Jadon Sancho.
I was reluctant to list Sancho, as he surely will be a star and should figure each week, but this is his first season with the club. Sometimes managers prefer to introduce new talent slowly, and new players sometimes even have trouble adjusting in their first season. But, ultimately I put him in there because as long as he is fit and firing then there’s no one better to start on the right. You may also notice, other than Fernandes, I didn’t list any other midfielders. I believe the midfield is the weakest link of this team and the most unpredictable.
Season Preview – The Midfield Dilemma
You would assume Paul Pogba would start, but as we’ve seen last season this isn’t always the case. For as great as Pogba is, Solskjaer can’t trust the Frenchmen in a midfield two. And while that would mean the McFred combo would probably be the most consistent pairing in the midfield, that too may not be the case this season. At least amongst fans there is a great desire to move on from Fred, and with Solskjaer’s desire to move from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, that combo makes little sense.
I believe United will sign another midfielder before the season starts, which will make the picture much more clear. Although, if no additions are made then I believe we will see a rotation of the McFred combo and Fred/McTominay playing as the CDM in a 4-3-3. Only time will tell, but I hope to see more signings. A player like Ruben Neves could solve this dilemma. Neves as the holding midfielder with Pogba and Fernandes in front of him would be one of the best 3 man midfields in the world.
Outsiders to solve the Dilemma in Midfield
Solskjaer’s desire to utilize 4-3-3 also lends the possibility to Donny van de Beek getting more minutes this season. Donny is an excellent player, we all know that. He’s just failed to show it thus far, but the first season in a new country can be difficult for anyone. If Donny can find his form from Ajax and show us all why the likes of Real Madrid were so keen to get him, then United could surely take that giant next step.
Lastly, there are the outside players that could make a push to play more this season. Players like Jesse Lingard for example. Solskjaer may plan to use him more than he did prior, but the likelihood is Lingard wil be sold. Perhaps his short time with West Ham United was a one off, but he was one of the best Premier League players the second half of last season. Although, there is the possibility Solskjaer prefers to play him as part of a front three. With Rashford most likely out until October/November, we could see Lingard on the left. There are alot of questions with this midfield, all we can do is hope Ole can figure it out.
Season Preview – The Defense
This will be the easiest part of the squad to dissect. Who would’ve thought that two seasons ago, or even last season? With the addition of Raphael Varane, United now has a centre half pairing to be reckoned with. Maguire can now look to push a little further forward and penetrate teams with his excellent passing form the back, and rest easy knowing Varane has the speed and positional awareness to cover him. Varane and Maguire are also both very strong and superior in the air. As long as Varane doesn’t have some unforeseen trouble adapting to the Premier League, I believe our back two will be the best in the league.
Eric Bailey and Victor Lindelof may be upset at the arrival of Varane but they’ve done little to prove they deserve a place in the squad. Bailey has immense potential and plays with a fire, but he’s hurt far too often and always has a mistake in him. Some of the best defenders ever make mistakes or get a fair amount of red cards, such as Sergio Ramos, but they were also leaders of men and weren’t hurt all of the time. Lindelöf will be a great man to have on the bench, and can offer quality backup to Varane and Maguire. The centre backs are the least of my concerns with this squad.
Season Preview – The Fullbacks
Out wide we also have little to worry about. Luke Shaw has easily become the best left back in the Premier league over the last year and his performances at the Euros show he isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I firmly believe had he not broken his leg under LVG he would have established himself as the Premier League’s best seasons ago.
Now, on the right things may get just a bit more dicey. Wan-Bissaka is easily the best one-on-one defender in the league, but his inability to get forward and lack of positional awareness present a small dilemma for Solskjaer. Against teams like City Wan-Bissaka would surely be the best man for the job. Although, when asked to get forward more he either gets caught out of position or lacks any creativity going forward. But, he is still young and has all the tools necessary to take that next step. There is the possibility of the club bringing in Kieran Trippier, which would provide competition for Wan-bissaka and provide Solskjaer with a good option when he requires his fullbacks to get forward more.
Season Preview – Goalkeeping
Finally, the goalkeeping position is also a bit of a dilemma. Dean Henderson looked to have stolen De Gea’s spot last season but by season’s end there were a lot of questions surrounding the hat wearing keeper. David de Gea is past his best, but he does still have the trust of Solskjaer. I believe we need to just go all in on Henderson for a season, and move on form both keepers if it doesn’t work out this season. The potential for Hendo is there, so let’s just hope he can capitalize.
There is also the outside chance that Tom Heaton even takes the number one spot. This is unlikely but he has looked good in his preseason performances so far for United. Heaton is an experienced Premier League goalkeeper and if Hendo/De Gea’s woes continue, he may just be the best bet until a long-term replacement is found.
I know I said the defense would be solid, and it will be. There are a couple of dilemmas within it, but with a solid centre half pairing and a world class left back the rest should fall into place.
Season Preview – The Forwards
Okay, I promise, this will be the section with the least amount of negatives. Our forward line is officially stacked. Maybe I should knock on wood, but this squad is loaded up front. With the acquisition of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, United can start a world class player at all three forward positions. When healthy, our best front 3 would probably be Rashford, Cavani, and Sancho from left to right. Those three have goals written all over them.
Leading the line would be the Uruguayan, Edinson Cavani. El Matador had 10 goals in 13 premier league appearances last season. Unfortunately his fitness is what we should find concerning, but if he’s fit there’s not many better. To his left will be Marcus Rashford who had 11 goals and 9 assists while playing injured last season. While Jadon Sancho had 8 goals with 11 assists in 24 appearances for Dortmund last season. Sancho and Rashford are still very young and will lead this line for a long time to come, but a replacement for Cavani will be needed sooner rather than later.
Season Preview – Future 9’s
For right now, United hasn’t signed a striker this summer and they most likely won’t. Cavani should be good for at least another season and Greenwood will surely keep improving. United will most likely be one of clubs after Haaland next summer, but Greenwood could be the future up top. United will also face steep competition for the Norwegian’s signature next summer.
There’s also the question of Anthony Martial. Will Martial return to his form of two seasons ago, or will he continue to dip? The Frenchmen has always come in waves, but last year was very concerning. The talent is there to lead the United forward line for many years to come, but how many chances will he get?
Personally, I think United should go after Alexander Isak, the 21 year old from Sweden. Isak scored 17 goals for Sevilla in La Liga last season and looked extremely impressive at the Euros this summer. If we can’t get Halland I believe we should go all in on Isak and hope Greenwood continues to improve.
Season Preview – Depth
Finally, Manchester United has serious depth up front. And, with the transfer window yet to close we could add more. Although, I believe United will look to add another defender or midfielder. I’ve mentioned the three main starters should everyone be fit, but that’s never always the case. Also, Rashford will now be out until at least October. But, United has the depth to survive.
Martial, Greenwood, Diallo, and James can fill Rashford’s role quite well. Especially if Solskjaer rotates and utilizes each players strengths to specific matchups. For example, Greenwood or Diallo are much better than James technically, but I wouldn’t be surprised if James gets the start against Leeds opening day. Solskjaer could also give the likes of Elanga and Shoretire a shot. There’s also the option of using Jesse Lingard up front if he stays on at United this season. For the first time in a long time, I’m not worried about United’s depth up-front.
Season Preview – The 4-3-3
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has discussed with coaches internally, his desire to switch to the 4-3-3 formation this season. Which would lead to a more attack focused side and allow players like Pogba and Van de beek to play more in midfield. I’m sure the frustration of watching our side unable to breakdown teams last season influenced the switch. I believe Ole also thinks Van de beek and Pogba are too good to be playing out of position or not getting enough minutes. There are a multitude of reasons that could’ve sparked this desire from Ole, but I think all United fans are excited nonetheless.
Like I said before, this would spell the end for the McFred combo in midfield and would require Ole to settle on a lone defensive midfielder. Although without signing a player like Neves or Ndidi, I don’t know where this CDM comes from. Fred has the physical attributes and tenacity to be a world-class CDM, but he lacks the positional awareness and intelligence on the pitch. Picture Fred’s body with Matic’s brain, that would be an all time CDM. Sure, it’s possible Fred can come true yet, but I don’t think we should head into this season banking on that. Scott McTominay could possibly play the role, although I believe he lacks the pace to do so. Only time will tell, but if Ole can’t sign another CDM this window he may be forced to use the McFred combo more than he had hoped.
Okay, time for the fun stuff, some fantastical predictions. I promise I’ll try to remain as realistic as possible, but my United bias may slip through at times, and I also tend to be over optimistic. There is genuine excitement around the club heading into this season. I just hope we can make another signing or two before the window closes, specifically a CDM. But, even so, this team did finish second last year and they’re better heading into this season. So, below are some of my key predictions for this season:
- League Finish= 1st 87 pts. This is the year United finally get that ever elusive 21st title and regain the lead on the Scouse bastards. I think United’s new strength in attack, combined with it’s new assurance at the back can propel the club to at least over 25 wins and keep the club below 4 losses.
- Top Scorer= Edinson Cavani 24 goals in the EPL. Okay may be over optimistic here, but if Cavani can stay fit and healthy all season I truly believe at the rate in which he scores goals, he will score over 20. My darkhorse pick was Anthony Martial with 22 goals in a comeback season, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit to it. Man can dream though right?
- Assists Leader= Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho on 11 a piece. Two of the most creative players in the world. Fernandes and Sancho will both provide the goals for this club, and Pogba will be close behind. Although I fully expect to see Sancho and Fernandes play more than Paul P.
- Player of the Year= Harry Maguire. Old slabhead will find his form with his heading, and with Varane behind him he will have a few assists to go with it. The club captain will lead the best defense in the league, and guide United to the title.
Ole’s at the Wheel
This season has many United fans excited, as always to be honest, but it really does feel different this time. After finishing second with a less than perfect squad, can Ole lead this team to it’s 21st title? The singings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane will have a huge impact on this team, and may be just what it needs. The season is long, and the Premier League is always ultra competitive. But, with a much improved defense, and a highly potent offense, this team can make some noise. Ole’s at the wheel, and tell me, how good does it feel? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Glory Glory Man United!