It’s been a glum week for Man Utd fans after their dire start to the Premier League season. But there are reasons for optimism…
1. The transfer window isn’t closed yet
For all the sniping over United’s inactivity in the transfer market this summer, it should be remembered that there are still 12 days remaining for Ed Woodward to pull his finger out and Matt Judge to answer his phone.
Woodward seems to enjoy few things more than playing hardball and though he often ends up losing face and time by belatedly agreeing to the selling party’s demands, sometimes he gets the job done. Usually weeks later than it should have been.
We know United are going for Jadon Sancho and eventually it will dawn on Woodward that Borussia Dortmund are not backing down over their asking price. At some point in the coming days, Woodward will have to put up or shut up and move on to one of the 427 Sancho alternatives.
Similar can be said of Alex Telles. United are trying to drive down Porto’s asking price for the left-back but the feeling is a deal – not necessarily one that Woodward will crow about – will eventually get done.
Because everyone knows United can’t afford not to strengthen. The only positive to take from the capitulation to Crystal Palace on Saturday was that it shone the brightest light on the Red Devils’ biggest flaws and the areas they most need to strengthen: left-back, centre-back and right wing.
The likelihood of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being furnished with all the tools he needs seems unlikely because, well, Woodward. But even with all we know about the ineptitude of the United board, anything less than two out of three is unfathomable.
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2. Donny van de Beek looks the business
It’s early days, and you can question whether United needed van de Beek this summer, but as the Holland midfielder settles in at Old Trafford, first impressions have been favourable.
Van de Beek certainly looked the most spritely United presence when he came off the bench against Palace for his United debut on Saturday before he carried the Red Devils’ biggest threat in his first start against Luton on Tuesday. United just need to find him with the ball.
The former Ajax midfielder suggested how they might do that when he reflected on his debut defeat: “We played too slowly. We went too long with the ball and I think against an opponent like Crystal Palace you need to speed up the game to create something.”
Of course, he was right but the fact he is willing to say as much publicly is just as encouraging as the fact he already recognises United’s weakness.
Where van de Beek’s place is in the United team remains unclear. In both games so far, he has played just off the front in a similar position to where Bruno Fernandes likes to play, with the Portuguese star dropping deeper when Paul Pogba was put out of his misery at the weekend. How the trio can form a functioning midfield unit is Solskjaer’s riddle to solve, but at least van de Beek is already asserting himself after stepping up from the Eredivisie.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 19, 2020
3. Bruno Fernandes
An interrupted half-season was all it took for Fernandes to establish himself as United’s Player of the Season last term so imagine what the Portugal star could do in his first full season now he has his feet firmly under the table.
Fernandes lifted the whole club when he arrived in January, leading by example by contributing to 27 goals in 24 Premier League and Europa League matches. United haven’t had a player make such an impact since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down from his throne.
So impressive was the 26-year-old, it stirred something in his new team-mates, some of whom had drifted into a slumber bordering on a coma. His effervescence spread through United’s ranks and Solskjaer has to hope that the novelty doesn’t wear off.
If it appears as though it might, Fernandes – like van de Beek – isn’t afraid to call out the slackers. He bawled out Victor Lindelof after the Swede’s sloppiness in the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla and the attacker has taken on the responsibility of leading this United side, even without the armband.
Creativity and personality are just two of the things the modern-day United has lacked. Fernandes brings both and he alone makes the Red Devils worth watching.
4. The kids are alright
Few other teams place quite as much emphasis as United on the emergence of young players when assessing the overall health of the club, regardless of whatever else is going wrong. And while there is plenty to be concerned about right now, the flow of talent from the academy into the first team isn’t one of them.
After a few years when the production line slowed almost to the point of stalling, Solskjaer has been able to blood a number of young players who look capable of making a career for themselves at Old Trafford.
Mason Greenwood is the poster boy for the young talent and the attacker is certainly ready to make himself an automatic pick in Solskjaer’s XI this season. After a few weeks during which Greenwood admits he let himself down, the 18-year-old looks primed to build on a spectacular breakthrough season in which he scored 17 goals while bamboozling defenders baffled over which side to guide him as he cut in off the flank. Solskjaer believes that “he’ll end up as a No.9 in the end” but for now, one of the wider roles suits Greenwood just fine while he makes light work of the adjustment to senior football.
Brandon Williams is also looking to build on a hugely-promising breakout campaign as a right-footed left-back, while his former academy team-mates James Garner and Dylan Levitt continue their ascent towards the first team at Old Trafford a little further afield at Watford and Charlton respectively.
Mason Greenwood is a special, special talent 🔴⚫️
– 7 Europa League matches
– 5 Europa League goals
– A goal every 92 minutes
The teenager has scored 17(!) in all competitions for Man Utd this season 👏 pic.twitter.com/JxOR7lMAMX
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) July 27, 2020
5. Dean Henderson can keep David De Gea on his toes
For the first time in his United career, De Gea has genuine competition from a goalkeeper with serious aspirations to take the gloves from him.
Henderson was outstanding at Sheffield United last season and the England call-up is back at Old Trafford this season to stake his claim to the No.1 spot after a series of loan moves through the divisions. He feels he is ready and so do many others.
Some had called for Henderson to start the season as first choice after De Gea’s standards slipped towards the back end of the last campaign but keeping the goal at Old Trafford is a vastly different job to minding the net at Bramall Lane. But Henderson demonstrated at Luton that he can come up with a crucial save after being largely inactive and the chances he gets this season, in the cup competitions most likely, he has to take.
De Gea has enough credit in the bank to retain his status as No.1 but the goalkeeping hierarchy is rather less clear now which, in theory, should prompt the Spaniard to maintain the performance levels he has demonstrated for most of his Old Trafford career. With Sergio Romero posing little threat as a rival for his place, De Gea now knows that any slump could see him benched for the first time in the post-Ferguson era. How sustainable the current goalkeeping arrangement is beyond the end of the season is unclear since whoever finishes the campaign out of the side is likely to look elsewhere for an opportunity. But unlike previously when United have let two keepers slug it out, Solskjaer has two top-class stoppers to choose between.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 23, 2020