Monday , June 5 2023

Andy Mitten's column: It's very early days, but here's why there is reason for optimism at Manchester United


Manchester United had just beaten Real Madrid in Ann Arbor five years ago, when a longtime staff member approached Louis van Gaal.

"Thank you for smiling at us," he told the new United boss, who thanked the compliment gratefully. Van Gaal was at the club a month or two, but a 100% record in preseason brought an immediate rebound after a terrifying tenure under David Moyes.

Those six preseason victories in 2014 raised hopes that the Moyes season was one-off. Optimism grew after the signings of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao. United went on to finish 17 points behind champions Chelsea in fourth.

So no one will be carried away after the excellent preseason form so far under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. European champions Liverpool may fall for their preparations, but United have won every game. They still have two to play, in Oslo against Kristiansund on Tuesday and in Cardiff on Saturday against Milan, beating Inter, Spurs, Leeds United and Perth Glory.

Kristiansund is the hometown of Solskjaer 350 miles north, and although he never played for them, he always supported the club and his son was able to play in the game.

They are in the middle of their season, so it is a good test to see if United can continue the fast, pressing, energetic and attacking football that Solskaya wants and his coaches want. He also demands that his players play as he believes Manchester United players should do. Ole and his coaches push them harder mentally, to be more communicative, more assertive, more aware of who they are and their responsibility for doing so. They don’t want players to make heads-up on themselves on social media. They want confident, confident leaders.

Solskjaer still has a lot of work on his hands, but his two new signings turned out well. Aaron Wan-Bissaka may be shy and is barely able to do a consistent media interview, but he considers himself ready for the first team. Daniel James is a scorer and should be more clinical ahead of the goal and with his final ball, but he is faster than his Welsh boss Ryan Giggs ever and had enough energy to power North West England.

There is a fresh build confidence, but it is fragile.

In 2014, Van Gaal's team started the season at home in Swansea City – and lost. All hell broke loose. United panicked and signed Di Maria and Falcao. Fans added to the noise of transfers were delighted, but neither worked. Poor recruitment meant that the homework wasn't done either. Falcao was not fully recovered from a serious injury, and Di Maria never lived anywhere where it rained from time to time.

By Maria Falcao

Some fans may say to the names. Not surprisingly, they are furious about how supposedly the top players in the United States looked shot and unintentional in the closing games. There is an argument that a leopard cannot change its space, yet these players were so convinced when Solskaya arrived. They all know their reputations are on the line, but the Norwegian – who hinted at a summer swap before discovering that few can afford their overpaid bills – also wants additions.

Harry Maguire should have come, but it didn't come true. The supposed US interest in Bruno Fernandes is actually shifted by the player's agent and the Portuguese media, but United need a bright central midfielder. Who is that man? Is Nemanja Matic the player he was? Is Scott McTominay going to kick in? Will Fred fare well after a miserable first season?

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There will be departures. Romelu Lukaku will probably be gone soon if Inter Milan pays for what the United Nations has asked for. He also didn't like the month among fans, but he scored a lot of goals for United. They need to be replaced – and then some.

Can Mason Greenwood walk around and score them, and can Marcus Rashford score more? Or Anthony Martial, who, like Rashford, looked decent pre-season. Can he play in a more effective central role? And don't forget Alexis Sanchez, of course drafted by many, yet still – and ridiculously so – the highest-paid player in the club.

Anthony Martial Manchester United


And what about the defense? An established center-back partnership is missing and needed, but where does it come from? Victor Lindelof and Maguire? These are questions that have no answers on the cushion of the new season.

Solskjaer also needs to feel that he has really supported himself from those above, and it is in the club's interest to do so. Sacking him would be a massive criticism of Ed Woodward, as he is the man who oversaw failed managerial appointments and poor recruiting in the post-Ferguson years. The buck stops with Ed.

I was in the preseason games in Asia, and I'm in Oslo now. What I've seen is that I have more confidence in the United Kingdom than I was a month ago, though that doesn't really say much. But I look forward to this season – and that's not something I said in May.

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