Manchester United have made a few summer signings but will that be enough to see them contend for honours both in England and in Europe.
The facts. The Red Devils finished 12 points behind their “noisy neigbours”. Their once-bright future in the Champions League – they beat PSG away and then hammered RB Leipzig at home – fizzled out as they crashed out in the group stage.
The subsequent Europa League dream ended in heartbreak when David de Gea missed his spot kick in the final defeat to Villareal. The loss was off the back of being unable to dominate a side that finished seventh domestically.
Towards the end of the campaign, the players in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad were spent. Dead on their legs. It was a season that ended with Marcus Rashford unable to start for his country in the European Championships.
Now, Rashford will miss the start of the season which places a bigger burden on Edinson Cavani (a player who will be 35 in February – a time when the season reaches its most crucial period).
The Uruguayan will have some help with Mason Greenwood expected to play a significant role. The future of Anthony Martial, currently working his way back to fitness after a knee injury in March, remains unclear and thus probably not wise to include him in the plans to topple City.
The one player who will draw more spotlight than Paul Pogba – and the sideshow of whether he goes or stays – is Jadon Sancho. The new recruit, and a former City player, has joined the red half of Manchester but shouldn’t expectations be tempered when discussing a 21-year-old? Even with the three figure transfer fee?
The only real area of certainty is that United’s defence will be vastly improved with the arrival of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid. The same defender who joined the La Liga giants because United went for Phil Jones. The two players couldn’t have had differing paths to this point with the overriding sense now that the club has finally put things right. He joins Harry Maguire with Luke Shaw barraging up the left flank and Aaron Wan-Bissaka protecting the right.
But you see at this point, that’s where the answers to last season’s deficiencies end. Who will man the midfield when Pogba is sold? Or worse, if he stays and goes missing? Who is going to start in goals – De Gea or Dean Henderson? Is Fred the real answer to what Chelsea have in a player like N’Golo Kante? We could answer that right now.
For all of Bruno Fernandes’ talent and goals (he scored 18 last term), there are gaps that have not been filled. Yes, the defence has been better but there is a long way to go in building this side into a title-winning one.
There is time left in the transfer window. Time for Solskjaer to answer some questions – some with his cheque book you feel.
The starting lineup will look a lot better when Rashford is fit. But he will miss the first bit of the season leaving Sancho with no time to find his feet at this level.
Manchester United start the league at home to Leeds. A win is likely but harder tests will soon present themselves. Whether United, under Solskjaer, have the depth to pass the test will quickly be determined.