Manchester United welcome Leeds to Old Trafford on Saturday as the much-anticipated Premier League season kicks off.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finished second behind rivals Manchester City last campaign and the United boss will be hoping to improve on that league finish, which means his side will need to mount a serious title challenge if they wish to end their wait for league glory.
New signings Jadon Sancho and imminent arrival Raphael Varane will certainly help United work towards that ambition, while the club’s stars who featured at the European Championship and Copa America should have returned from their break refreshed.
Although it’s been a muddle of a pre-season for United, they’ll be relishing the prospect of playing their opening game against historic rivals Leeds at home. United emerged as stylish 6-2 winners against Leeds at Old Trafford in a thrilling encounter last season.
But what is Solskjaer’s strongest starting XI for the new campaign?
Here’s how our MEN writers think United should line up.
There is not much between David de Gea and Dean Henderson but Henderson is the long-term investment who performed well during his consistent run in the league.
The back four picks itself, even though United have considered an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Scott McTominay is the most durable of the holding midfield options and has had his best games for United as a defensive midfielder. United have to try and accommodate Paul Pogba with Bruno Fernandes.
Mason Greenwood is United’s best ‘inverted’ right-side winger and Edinson Cavani their best striker. Jadon Sancho, bought to strengthen the right wing, is ironically on the left.
Which players would make your strongest line up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
The arrival of Varane should allow Solskjaer to release the handbrake this season and play 4-3-3 on a more regular basis and that system might get the best out of United.
The back four picks itself now, especially with Kieran Trippier looking unlikely to arrive to put pressure on Wan-Bissaka, but the battle in goal remains close. De Gea will start the season between the posts as Henderson recovers from the aftereffects of Covid-19, but the academy graduate might just edge it long-term.
If United do go to a 4-3-3 then who plays as the defensive midfielder is the toughest midfield decision. Fred and McTominay have played there as a partnership but Matic might be best suited to playing that role on his own for now. Rotation could be a key feature. Fernandes and Pogba look suited to playing as No. 8s, with Van de Beek also a very good option.
Martial will start the season at centre forward but United look a more aggressive side when Cavani plays. Sancho could begin his United career on the left but might be best on the right when Rashford returns to full fitness.
The back five pretty much picks itself, although the caveat is that Henderson will need to reclaim the No.1 position, given De Gea is likely to start the season in goal.
Matic would be suited to the defensive midfield role if United are to switch to 4-3-3, as has been heavily touted in pre-season. But Fred is the more mobile and energetic option in there alongside Pogba, if United are to play the 4-2-3-1 that’s been pretty successful for Solskjaer so far in his tenure.
It’s likely that Greenwood will start the season in the starting line-up and he can seize a regular berth for himself out wide, probably interchanging with Sancho, leaving a challenge for Rashford when he eventually returns.
Martial is behind Cavani in the No.9 pecking order and that shouldn’t change unless the Uruguayan has fitness issues.
Solskjaer has been considering changing to the 4-3-3 formation this season and that tactical tweak could be a masterstroke.
For the first time in just under a decade, United boast a back four that looks capable of competing for major honours. Varane represents the final piece of the jigsaw and the World Cup winner should effortlessly adapt to working alongside Maguire.
If Solskjaer does abandon the double pivot which has defined his tenure so far, Pogba will have no excuse to not deliver consistently brilliant performances while McTominay can use his full pre-season to his advantage and regularly start over the Brazilian Fred.
It seems inevitable Sancho will occupy the right-wing position and Cavani will be handed the responsibility to lead United’s attack.
When Rashford returns from his shoulder operation, he can rediscover his best form – United crave his menacing presence on the left.