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Five issues Manchester United still need to resolve in pre-season – Dominic Booth


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could hardly have hoped for a better pre-season campaign to date.

Manchester United have won three games without conceding a goal, seen their two new signings settle in nicely, while fitness levels are improving in line with what the manager has demanded.

There is still plenty of ground for United to make up, however, if they’re to improve on last season’s dismal showing. By Solskjaer‘s own admission, the side “hit a brick wall” towards the conclusion of the campaign, exacerbating fans’ concerns. Returning to the top four is imperative.

So even putting the huge issue of securing incoming transfers to one side, there is still plenty for United to work on between now and the Premier League opener against Chelsea on August 11.

United have three games, against Spurs, Kristiansund and AC Milan, plus pre-season training sessions, to make the necessary improvements:

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The centre-back order of merit

Whether or not Harry Maguire arrives from Leicester, United must soon settle on a first choice defence and decide where each of their centre-backs fit in.

Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe have all featured in pre-season.

So with Victor Lindelof quite clearly a shoo-in for Solskjaer‘s side for the Chelsea game, the others are jostling for the other place. Yet if Maguire arrives, they may find themselves competing just to remain at the club — although Tuanzebe looks sure to get a chance to establish himself following loan spells at Aston Villa.

Rojo, Smalling and Jones have been plagued by inconsistent form in recent years, while injuries have held Bailly back. One of them needs to show Solskjaer they can be trusted as a regular pillar of this United defence.

Right wing

Teenage sensation Mason Greenwood has given Solskjaer a nice problem on the right side of attack this pre-season. It was thought the talented 17-year-old would play some part in the coming campaign, most likely as a back-up central striker, but his performances cutting in from the right flank have been genuinely encouraging.

Meanwhile new wing signing Daniel James has featured down the left, so too has youngster Tahith Chong, while Jesse Lingard has been quiet whenever he’s played on the right.

Solskjaer needs to decide who can bring consistency to a position which has troubled United for some time now.

Midfield balance

It has been interesting to see Solskjaer play with a No.10 for much of pre-season, with two central midfielders behind. That has meant a slightly more defensive role for Paul Pogba alongside a true holding player — Scott McTominay also operating deeper than he did during the latter stages of the previous campaign.

The temporary absence of Fred, the departure of Ander Herrera and, most pertinently, the lack of a midfield signing has forced Solskjaer‘s hand to some extent.

It will be fascinating to see how he alters the balance of his midfield if and when a new signing arrives in that position — and whether it is Bruno Fernandes or Sean Longstaff.

Decisions on youngsters

Solskjaer was always going to blood academy stars during these pre-season games. The Norwegian is a huge believer in United’s academy and in fairness his selections have been vindicated by the performances of Chong, Greenwood, Angel Gomes and James Garner.

But those players, if not given enough competitive minutes in the first team this season, could stagnate. There are decisions to be made on which should play prominent pre-season roles and which may head out on loan for regular game-time. Especially if more first team signings are made.

Find new systems

Managers often use pre-season to trial new systems, but for Solskjaer so far it’s been a case of drilling his preferred way of playing.

United have primarily used 4-2-3-1 in their games so far, with one or two subtle variations, but we haven’t yet seen a wing-back system or a two-up-front formation that could be used if needed as an alternative this season.

Perhaps the friendly against Kristiansund in Oslo will give Solskjaer the opportunity to experiment. United will need a Plan B at some stage.



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