Manchester United go into their first game of the Premier League season with just one new signing and only one senior departure in Donny Van De Beek and Alexis Sanchez respectively. The squad, the manager and the fans were expecting more arrivals and certainly more departures this summer and while some deals in and out of the club are possible in the next 16 days, it will be under a lot of pressure from the outcries on social media and certainly from the manager. Nevertheless, in his press conference this morning, Ole stated that two parts of his job are to bring in fresh faces but also to develop those still at the club. The latter is what I am focusing on today as I will look into United’s squad depth going into the 2020/21 campaign.
The Starting XI:
Manchester United have one of the best starting XI’s in the league and while there are changes that can and should have been made, the strongest team remains the same one as in the post-lockdown stage of last season:
David de Gea
Harry Maguire (c)
I expect this side to play in the big games in the Premier League and various cup competitions and certainly the side to start against Crystal Palace today. It has the most-balanced midfield United have at their dispense and the back four is at its strongest too. Ideally at least two improvements could be made in Jadon Sancho and Alex Telles but Luke Shaw and Mason Greenwood are certainly good enough to start games and play regularly. Overall, this team has so much quality in attack and defence but what problem remains is the lack of impact off the bench from the ‘second team’ players or ‘squad’ players and United have a totally different XI for those players which I will analyse next:
The Second XI:
This is the team I expect to play in the less competitive matches throughout the season and the team that should play on Tuesday against Luton Town. This team can also integrate with the first team for Premier League or Champions League games when the fixture list becomes tight as it will in December.
Donny Van De Beek
I do think there is some great quality in our second team that can compete for first team places but there is a lot to worry about. I think the back four is questionable without Tuanzebe as I think Fosu-Mensah or Teden Mengi as the centre-back option alongside Bailly would be a nervy option. I also think Dalot may leave if Telles can come in as Williams will be pushed onto the right and Shaw will compete with the Brazilian international but I do think Dalot will start on Tuesday as one last chance. If he can’t play well against a Championship side then he should not be in contention to play this season. The permutations of not getting Jadon Sancho will mean Greenwood starts regularly and either Mata, Lingard or Pereira would fill in as the sub-right wing option and Mata has the most quality of the three. Another issue is Ighalo. If Shanghai cannot find a replacement, they will want to bring Ighalo back to China and thus United will need to find another striker in January. Now, moving on to those who are left:
The Youth Talent:
There are a few academy players I can see featuring this season having had a taste of football in the 2019/20 campaign. Here’s who makes the list:
I can certainly see Ethan Laird having some game-time if Dalot leaves and/or Telles does not join the club and I do expect Mengi to start/come on against Luton Town on Tuesday after being promoted to the first team this week. Ethan Galbraith and Anthony Elanga came on in the pre-season match against Aston Villa and I can see them featuring off the bench at some point this season. Mejbri has lit up the U18 seasons so far and I can also see him making his debut if he keeps his form up.
Saddening as it is to say, there are players left that do not feature directly in the first two XIs and most of these players will not feature and should be sold:
Romero could leave as he is too good to be a third choice goalkeeper at any club as he could easily be a starting goalkeeper at many clubs and should leave for around £12m. Grant will stay as the third choice and offer his experience to Henderson and De Gea in their highly competitive and exciting season to come. Jones, Rojo and Smalling should all leave when they are fit with the latter two training alone currently and Jones still injured. Tuanzebe will certainly return to the first team when fit and push for a starting place along with Eric Bailly as I expect Fosu-Mensah to drop out of the second XI for the young English international. Pereira could and should leave as he has not improved enough from his early promise to be in contention to play for United. As for Lingard, many fans are on the fence as to whether he should stay. I do think he could offer United a lot if he is willing to fight for his place and so I think he should stay for another season and another chance to show his worth.
While United still need a lot of players out of their books by the 5th of October, only two real signings need to be made to improve the starting XI and thus improve the squad as a whole.