Manchester United continued their preparations for the new season in a 2-2 draw with Premier League newcomers Brentford on Wednesday night.
Anthony Elanga and Andreas Pereira both found the scoresheet in front of around 30,000 fans at Old Trafford as the players got more valuable minutes in their legs ahead of their opening day clash with Leeds United.
The MEN’s chief United writer Samuel Luckhurst spoke with Tyrone Marshall in a Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon to discuss the latest news surrounding the club.
Luckhurst gave his reaction to the game against the Bees, what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to say on summer signing Raphael Varane and who’s likely to leave the club this summer, while also expressing his early thoughts on the possible team to face Leeds.
Here are the highlights of the discussion to help you cut through the noise and get to the real story.
Reflecting on Brentford draw
Luckhurst: “The incentive for us going was to speak to Solskjaer afterwards and that was the case with the games against QPR and Derby as well.
“He’s been very engaging when he’s spoken to us during the last couple of weeks and there’s always a lot to glean from a manager in pre-season as there’s an awful lot going on in terms of incomings, outgoings, players reporting back for training.
“This time next week, United will have everyone back in the building at Carrington gearing up for that Leeds United game on August 14. I suppose the two goalscorers against Brentford; one absolutely has to be on the way out in Andreas Pereira as I just don’t see the need for him. You look at his route back into the team and he’s simply just not good enough.
“Whereas somebody like Anthony Elanga, who got the first goal, is really giving United a decision to make there because of the various issues they have with a number of forwards. It’s an interesting dynamic that United have got with their attack and there’s an awful lot of seniority with [Edinson] Cavani and [Bruno] Fernandes.
“You’ve got the star signing in Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood who’s having a full pre-season, but it’s weighted in the left-hand side that there are problems. Certainly issues anyway with Daniel James who doesn’t look ready to be a regular United player going forward.
“Marcus Rashford has form and fitness issues and there’s some uncertainty as to whether he will have surgery or not. Then you’ve got the fitness and form of Anthony Martial who is problematic. He’s had the worst season of his career injury-wise after being out for a number of months and I don’t expect him to be ready for the start of the season.
“So, that possibly allows Elanga the chance to stay at the club, get into the first-team squad and he’s going about it the right way. He was impressive when he came on at QPR and it was the quality of his goal that stood out last night, he manipulated the ball perfectly despite it being behind him and used the pace of the cross to steer it home.
“It was clinical, whereas in previous games he’s needed a few chances or he’s spurned a few chances before he’s got his goal and that’s been a positive as well. He’s a resilient attacker for such a young age and has beefed up for pre-season as demonstrated on his Instagram account as well. He’s had to bide his time and be patient but he’s reaping the rewards of it at the moment. At this stage, I think it’s entirely understandable that United are sitting tight and telling him to sit tight as well before they make a definitive decision on what they do with him.”
Looking ahead to Leeds
Luckhurst: “I don’t think anyone should be surprised if Nemanja Matic starts against Leeds as he’s been available for the whole of pre-season and he’s the only outright defensive midfielder in that squad. So, if United had to play 4-3-3 which is what Solskjaer wants to do but that might be delayed because of the slow market movement and whether they’re going to get a midfielder in or not.
“[Scott McTominay] is an interesting case in that he’s been back for the best part of two weeks but he’s not been involved in the last two games against Brentford and QPR. So, whether he’s carrying an injury of some sort we’re yet to have clarification on that but that obviously compromises the plans with the midfield because McTominay’s a key player and his usual partner in crime in Fred has been playing in the Copa America and won’t be back until next week.
“That said, I think Fred is among the most naturally fit players in that squad so maybe he’ll be in the right condition to start against Leeds. But then there’s the debate whether do you trust him on his own at holding midfield and I don’t think many people would. I don’t think that’s necessarily the right role for him. I think if he plays deep, he has to have a partner, whereas Matic, because of his experience, looks more comfortable on his own.
“So, I really wouldn’t be surprised if it’s two deep midfielders for that game which isn’t ideal in terms of the plans moving forward but it’s very difficult for any Premier League team to be in the place they want to be on the opening day of the season. I don’t think any will be in fact because teams are going to be short of targets and players are going to be short on match fitness because of the timings of their returns and coming back in drips and drabs.
“I don’t think it’s a gloomy outlook whatsoever.”
Solskjaer’s comments on Varane
Luckhurst: “The key words were ‘huge difference’ which Solskjaer used to describe [Raphael] Varane and Sancho and it was interesting how much he spoke at length about Varane. When we were in the press room afterwards we all thought he’s probably not going to say much because he didn’t say much when we asked him about Sancho at Derby because he hadn’t completed his medical yet and it hadn’t been fully signed off.
“Varane is in the same situation, but he was happy to answer about three questions on him and I suppose the thing that stood out for me was the thing he said about the age of Varane and the age of the centre-backs they’ve got now. Varane is 28, I think [Harry] Maguire is the same age. [Eric] Bailly is 27 and [Victor] Lindelof is 25. So the fact he mentioned their ages is pretty significant in that it feels like that is an experienced quartet on paper to give United the security to go and challenge for the title next season.
“United are open to signing another centre-back and I don’t think many people would suggest that it’s absolutely essential but with people like Bailly considering how brittle and erratic he can be; I don’t think he’s necessarily secure there. I think Lindelof is definitely the third choice centre-back give the loyalties he’s enjoyed whilst working under Solskjaer and that isn’t a surprise whatsoever.
“But it’s still a pretty good quartet even if they don’t bring anyone in.
Luckhurst: “I think there are around 35 players in the current first-team squad which is probably 10 too many.
“It’s understandable as you want to promote academy players and you want to give them that exposure, I fully understand that and some of them like Elanga might be there to stay. Players like Di’Shon Bernard are going out on loan and there are a lot of players who have been involved in pre-season who we know will not be in the first-team squad come next week.
“They will either be at another club or training with the Under 23s because everyone is due to be back next week and if certain players aren’t back next week, then you’re entitled to ask why because it would be a bit peculiar if they’re not.
“The tricky thing is raising funds for players and there are probably, at the very most, three players who are obvious players to sell for obtaining fees for which are [Jesse] Lingard, [Paul] Pogba and maybe Diogo Dalot. Even Dalot you could see ending up with a loan move instead and that’s maybe the more likely scenario.
“Come the end of the window, it will probably end up being more loans in terms of outgoings for United but they are going to have make some permanent sales to free some money up if they want to do more incomings. It could be the busiest August – or at least one of them – for United in recent transfer windows.”
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