5 things we have learnt from Manchester United’s pre-season

 Written by John Kent

1. Jose should buy a defender….just in case

Don’t get me wrong, I do not include the whole defence in this statement. We all know in De Gea, we have one of the top three goalkeepers in the world at present, if not the best, and with the Spaniard in goal we will always be tough to beat. In the full back, Luke Shaw has made a promising return from injury, and the site of him running down the left side of the Old Trafford turf was undoubtedly the highlight of Wayne Rooney’s testimonial on the Wednesday night. On the other side, Antonio Valencia has been a pleasant surprise, with their being signs that he might well have learnt to cross the ball again. Not enough has been seen of Darmian though to make a proper statement. A move for Fabinho has been muted, but Mourinho may give Valencia the first couple of games to prove himself.

It is the centre of defence though that will have the United fans worried. Smalling has been injured, and thus will go into the new season with no real match rhythm, and whilst Blind has proven an able deputy, he will not have opposition strikers trembling in their boots. Bailly has impressed me immensely; I think he looks very calm and composed on the ball, and will be a tough one to outmuscle – a couple of times he has ushered opposing strikers off the ball that others would’ve bulked at. My issue is then that he is young, and also has no Premier League experience, and whilst I hope he proves me wrong, I would be very surprised if Jose Mourinho does not dip his hand into the market once again for a more experienced defender.

25398202263_a91fe74470_z

credit Nazionale Calcio

2. Zlatan and Wayne is not a match made in heaven

Prior to kick off last night, our new no.9 was speaking at relishing the thought of playing with Rooney, saying his selfless work-rate made him the ideal striking partner – well, I would beg to differ.

The players are too similar in one aspect – they both like to drop deep to pick up the ball, Rooney in particular when United are struggling for possession in the final 3rd.

If we look at heat maps  from a game for each of the two players, you will see how they are apt to occupy similar positions.

It does not take a rocket science to realise that this combination will therefore not work. How best to deal with it? It’s simple in my opinion; in Martial and Rashford, then to a lesser extent Depay and Lingard. We have a group of players who will outpace the majority of defenders in the Premier League. It then becomes a case of two into one, and in my opinion that player should be Zlatan. He is shown a willingness to get the ball whenever possible in pre-season, and one of his biggest strengths is the way he holds it up, and then will be able to get the runners heading towards the goal. This is the reason he is able to not only score goals, but get a large amount of assists on top of it.

This brings us nicely onto the next question then, and what to do with Wayne Rooney.

6013462045_6ef7c137ab_z (1)

credit Ian C

 3. Rooney should be given a chance, but Jose must be ruthless

There is no doubting that Rooney still has the potential to offer a lot to this Manchester United side. Take his passing average for example – last year it was up at 83.1%, which is 2.9% higher then he has averaged over his career, although this would largely be due to the ‘safety’ first approach employed at Van Gaal. Furthermore, Jose Mourinho is seeking to build a team ready to intimidate, whether it be Zlatan, Martial, De Gea, or the impending arrival of Pogba; Rooney certainly falls into this category, one just has to look at the way that the likes of Messi speak of him to realise the respect that he carries amongst the very best players in world football.

The worrying thing though is the steady decline in the goals scored column, as Rooney failed to reach double figures in the Premier League last year. This will undoubtedly concern Jose Mourinho, and will largely be the reason that he is deployed in the no.10 position behind the striker, rather then closer to goal. Should Rooney be able to lay on the passes, this will not be a problem, and I have no doubt United would thrive if this were the case. This is far from guaranteed though, and do not be surprised to see football’s favourite blogger, Juan Mata, take his place. My dream scenario would be to take the change further, move Mkhitaryan into the middle, and have the speed merchants running off him and Zlatan and creating havoc for the opposition defence.

10628895364_f73e972e03_z

credit Ronnie Macdonald

4. Jose may just settle

Now, before anyone makes any comments about how  a ‘leopard never changes it’s spots’, and ‘we’ve heard it all before’, just hear me out.

The respect that Jose Mourinho has always had for the red half of Manchester is undeniable. Just see below for a few things the ‘Special One’ has said about his new charges:

 

  • ‘I told Mr Ferguson that United didn’t deserve to leave with nothing.’
  • ‘My wish has been granted. It will be unforgettable to go back to Manchester…I want to face the best and United are a team of champions with a super coach in Alex Ferguson…’
  • ‘The best team lost. We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this.’

 

These are pale in comparison when you see how Mourinho has behaved towards other rivals, whether it be the long running feud with Arsene Wenger, or the eye poking incident over in La Liga.

What is it then that suggests a change in his ways? Firstly a look at the couple of players brought in, not least the first of the bunch, Eric Bailly, whom Mourinho has admitted is a long term project. Even Pogba, for all the vast amount of money being spent, is hardly the finished article. Yes, you can point to both Zlatan and Mkhitaryan being on the older side of the scale, but Zlatan in particular has his reasons for coming over, not least as Jose knows he is desperate to get one over a certain manager across the road. Another potential target that is, or at least was, rumoured to be close is Oxford from West Ham, with Jose no doubt intrigued at the prospect of combining him with Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzabe, who both saw some minutes in pre-season, though the latter in particular may be off on loan.

In terms of talk, a lot of the theatrics of Mourinho seem to have disappeared (for now) from his personla, and talk instead seems concentrated at getting the most out of his team, and hopefully staying in the longer term than his initial contract dictates. I know there is a long way to go, and he could yet spontaneously combust in spectacular fashion, but watch this space!

4489630578_73c0948a76_z

credit Sean MacEntee

5. We are not there yet

Yes, there is potential, but there is a long way to go. United fans have to remember what Jose was left by both Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes, and if we are to challenge it could very well be down to the weakness of others rather then our own strength. The fact we are not in the Champions League could be a blessing in disguise as it will allow us to rebuild away from the attention, and the potential scrutiny, that an away fixture at the Camp Nou for example could bring us.

It is exciting times though, and for the first time since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, we can go into the campaign with a real sense of optimism.

Manchester United fans, have Pre-Season preparations made you confident for the season? Does Mourinho need to make any changes still? Let us know in the comments below!

Article Written by @johnkent1991

featured image by Sean MacEntee