Premier League Preview: Manchester United

Manchester United will be seeking an unlikely triumph in the battle against powerhouses and city rivals Manchester City in this season’s Premier League. City ended up winning the title by 19 points last year as Jose Mourinho’s men failed to apply any real pressure on the Citizens. Despite finishing second, United never really managed to string a worthy run of wins together and often struggled against smaller opposition.

The 2012-13 winners have made just three signings for their latest title charge, something controversial manager Jose Mourinho has been very vocally negative about. The fanbase is divided on the future of the Portuguese maverick, with Mourinho openly showing disrespect to the talented Anthony Martial in pre-season after his absence due to becoming a father.

United have had a mixed pre-season, drawing thrice against Club America, San Jose Earthquakes and AC Milan before falling foul of a 4-1 humbling by fierce rivals Liverpool in the US. The Red Devils finished their preparations with tough tests against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, coming out on top against the Spaniards in a 2-1 victory, before falling to a 1-0 defeat against Bayern.

Summer Business

United have made just two notable moves in this summer’s transfer window, signing Brazillian Fred for just over £50 million from Shakhtar Donetsk after an impressive campaign in Ukraine. Mourinho also added young full-back Diego Dalot, with the 19-year-old joining for just under £20 million from Porto. These two signings will bolster an already talented squad, but United fans will be upset that the club didn’t try harder to secure a top-class centre-back to steady the ship, after moves for Harry Maguire and Jerome Boateng didn’t materialise.

The only major departure was that of full-back Daley Blind, who rejoined Ajax for £15 million after failing to cement a first-team place. Veteran goalkeeper Lee Grant has also made the switch from Stoke as a backup option, as well as fulfilling the English player quota (a Premier League requirement).

Key Player

Fresh from a World Cup where we could all see what he was capable of, 25-year-old Romelu Lukaku will enter his second season leading the line for Manchester United after making the £90 million move from Everton last year.

We saw glimpses of value for that fee last season with the brutish Belgian scoring 21 domestic goals in 42 games, but this year could be the year that Lukaku finally steps up to the pedestal that Harry Kane has very rightfully elevated himself onto. When on form, Lukaku uses his incredible speed and powerful nature to bully defenders – winning duels both in the air and on the ground.

But as evidenced last season, the ex-Chelsea man has a tendency to go long runs of games without netting and when playing for a club with a demanding fanbase like Manchester United, consistency is key. Hopefully, Lukaku can carry on his World Cup momentum and continue his impressive legacy in England’s top flight.

Manager – Jose Mourinho

Mourinho will be aware that his neck is on the line when his side kick off against Leicester on Friday, with the ex-Chelsea boss making some very risque comments about his players in the build-up to this season. His spat with Anthony Martial over his pre-season commitment and his astonishing tirades following lacklustre performances in the US tour have tarnished the image of the usually squeaky-clean media presence of Manchester United, with many fans questioning if Mourinho is really the man to return United to the summit of English football.

The Portuguese will take charge in his third season and will be desperate to prove his critics wrong despite the lack of help from his superiors – particularly the transfer committee, who vetoed everyone on his summer wishlist. In the press conference before the Leicester City opener on Friday, Mourinho said:

“I have the same players, I have the same team. As you can imagine my players worked during pre-season so our evolution as a team, evolution in our style of play has to be done in the competition, during the competition and during the spaces we are going to have in between matches. One third of my squad arrived two or three days ago, so it’s not easy.

“I relish every challenge, it doesn’t matter what, I love to work. That’s the only thing I can promise, work hard. I am always confident, that’s management.”

Prediction – 3rd

With Man City and Liverpool strengthening even further (Liverpool in particular), I think it will be extremely difficult for United to equal or better last season’s achievements. I think Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba are going to be key for the Red Devils and if they lose one through injury, they will really struggle as there’s six teams who could easily finish in the top 4. This could be the season Mourinho’s legacy at United ends if he continues to slate his players in the press.

Probable line-up

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