3 Things We Have Learnt From Manchester United’s Pre-Season Thus Far

Manchester United’s preparations for the upcoming 2023/24 season are in full swing, with the team currently on the pre-season tour of the United States. Before flying to the United States, Erik ten Hag’s men beat Leeds United and Lyon in friendly fixtures.

The Red Devils started the pre-season tour of the United States by beating Arsenal 2-0 before winning the penalty shootout 5-3 at MetLife Stadium. After the win over Arsenal, Ten Hag divided his squad for two matches in a little over 24 hours. He travelled with the youthful side made of academy kids to Snapdragon Stadium in California to play against Wrexham, while the senior players left for Texas to face Real Madrid.

Man United’s youthful side were beaten 3-1 by the newly promoted League Two club Wrexham on Wednesday, while the senior team fell to a 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid a day later. Ten Hag’s men will now be keen to wrap up the pre-season tour of the United States with a win over Borussia Dortmund on Monday before flying back home to face French side Lens at Old Trafford, followed by a friendly against Athletic Bilbao in Dublin.

With that being said, here are three things we have learnt from Man United’s pre-season campaign so far.

  1. Jadon Sancho has looked bright

This could be make or break season for Jadon Sancho after struggling to stamp his authority on the Premier League since his high-profile move from Borussia Dortmund in 2021.

In the absence of the injury-ridden Anthony Martial, Ten Hag has trialled Sancho in the central hub in all three pre-season games so far, performing as a false nine with a winger on either flank. This positional change has been implemented by Ten Hag as an attempt to revive the Englishman’s career as Man United are lacking a focal point up top.

And Sancho has taken his opportunities well, scoring in the 2-0 win over Arsenal at the MetLife Stadium. The 23-year-old has looked sharp with his link-up play and movement in four friendlies, vindicating why Ten Hag feels he possesses the quality to be effective in central roles.

It remains to be seen how Sancho performs throughout the next season, but one thing for sure he’s shown the qualities to thrive centrally in the pre-season and could become a genuine option if United fails to buy a new striker.

  1. Kobbie Mainoo can be the next breakout star

Last season, Alejandro Garnacho emerged as the breakthrough star from the academy under the tutelage of Ten Hag. This time, there are high chances of Kobbie Mainoo following Garnacho’s footsteps into the senior Manchester United squad.

Many wondered if there would be a loan move on the cards for Mainoo, but Ten Hag has been very willing to give him minutes so he can prove why he should have an important role in the upcoming campaign. The teenager has impressed in a deeper role, displaying incredible composure, game intelligence and passing ability. He is a rough diamond and needs to work on the defensive side of his game, but the youngster’s spatial awareness and incisive passing makes him a joy to watch.

Having impressed in the opening three pre-season fixtures, Ten Hag decided to hand Mainoo a start against Real Madrid in Texas. It was a big night for the teenager against one of Europe’s elite teams consisting of established midfielders such as Luka Modric, Jude Bellingham, Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga, but a collision with Rodrygo early on meant that he was forced off with an injury.

How long Mainoo will be out remains to be seen, but the youngster has done enough in the pre-season to suggest he could be the next breakout star.

  1. Man United desperately need a striker

Manchester United’s lack of a pure striker has been proven with Jadon Sancho operating as a false 9 in this ongoing pre-season tour. Anthony Martial is currently recovering from a hamstring problem, while Marcus Rashford—despite mustering up 30 goals across all competitions last season—is best suited starting off the left.

The Red Devils have created plenty of chances in the pre-season fixtures but continue to be wasteful in front of goal. It was very clear by the end of last season that Ten Hag’s side need a striker, and their lack of finishing ability in these friendly fixtures have further illustrated that. United desperately need a dependable, ruthless no.9 who can deliver at least 20 plus goals whilst linking up well with the likes of Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Antony and Mason Mount.

Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund has been earmarked as Ten Hag’s primary target, though United and Atalanta are still away in terms of agreeing on a fee. Going by the team’s persistent woes of putting the ball in the back of the net, it’s time for the club to ramp up their efforts for signing Hojlund.

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