So, another season dawns. Nine more months of ups, downs and molten hot pies lay in wait – but what should Reds expect from the upcoming campaign?
A slight change in play style
The introduction of Andre Onana between the posts is likely to result in a defence and midfield unit far more comfortable in possession, especially when receiving the ball from their goalkeeper.
For all of David de Gea’s magnificent capabilities, his deficiencies with the ball at his feet hamstrung United on numerous occasions last term, notably in Seville where a catalogue of errors saw Erik ten Hag’s men eliminated from the Europa League. The ability of a stopper to progress the ball effectively into midfield and suppress opposition attacks through his starting position could prove invaluable to anything United achieve this campaign.
A goalkeeper that has the utmost confidence of his back four could also see far less.
There will undoubtedly be a couple of occasions where Onana’s confidence in possession results in the cheap concession of a goal, but it is vital the crowd don’t get on his case too early and allow him the bed-in period that proved so important to his predecessor’s development.
A few more points in crucial away fixtures
Manchester United were a confusing tale on the road during 2022/23. On one hand, the Reds finished fifth in the Premier League’s away table. On the face of it, that seems an adequate performance when placed alongside a superb record on home soil only bettered by Manchester City.
However, when scrutinised, United’s showing away from home was far from acceptable. From the nine trips to the other sides occupying the eventual top ten places, United managed just four points from a possible 27.
Among those results were humblings at the Etihad and Brentford as well as a dire display at St James’ Park. And let’s not even mention Anfield.
This group of players have stood and not wilted in the Nou Camp, yet seemed to roll over to clearly inferior sides at far-from-intimidating venues last term. That needs to change and reversing that abject record will undoubtedly be high on the manager’s priority list.
Competition to intensify
Although drastic improvement United after embarrassment at the hands of Haaland and co. helped pave the way for a reasonably comfortable top four finish, rivals faltering certainly assisted that end to a great degree.
One would have to assume Manchester City will be as strong as ever, and Arsenal have bolstered their squad in key areas in a bid to bridge the gap. Elsewhere Liverpool, who reached a head of steam mere weeks too late to put real pressure on United, have added explosive midfield talent Dominik Szoboszlai as well as Alexis Mac Allister to boost their options. Barring another baffling loss of form which saw their season derailed in January and February 2023, it is feasible they will be back competing for honours again this term.
Spurs have embarked on a new era under Ange Postecoglou, whilst Newcastle have made some shrewd signings to hold onto their Champions League berth. Chelsea? Well, surely they can’t be as bad as last year.
The point is that all of United’s rivals will likely kick on, meaning pressure from beneath is likely to be more sustained than we saw for much of last season.
A striker with working limbs
It looks like Rasmus Højlund is on his way in and that can only be a good thing. The last time we had a striker who was consistently fit and competent at the same time feels like decades ago.
Last season, Anthony Martial missed 27 games through injury. By comparison, Erling Haaland was unavailable for three matches and Harry Kane was selectable every week.
The lack of continuity caused by a continually unavailable striker seemingly every week – which forced the loan of an inadequate stopgap in Weghorst – served to disrupt United’s rhythm and hindered any sort of cohesion between a constantly changing forward line.
I’m no expert on Højlund but if he can hold it up, run, find the net and stay off the treatment table then he’ll do for me*.
*Same for Mr Kane too, should he fancy it.
Antony to come good
The flamboyant Brazilian winger was perhaps the most inconsistent signing of ten Hag’s acquisitions last summer, with flashes of brilliance mixed in with stretches of peculiar anonymity.
In particular, a bizarre refusal to use his right foot for long spells clearly limited an obviously precocious talent for long spells in the season. However, stellar performances against Barcelona and Betis in particular prove there is definitely a serious talent there and his defensive work has been the best of his wide contemporaries throughout his time at Old Trafford.
Expect Antony to turn his game up a notch this campaign, with added confidence obtained from a period of stability in England only set to boost his output.
Whatever happens, strap yourselves in because nothing is ever straightforward in M16 – for better or worse.
Bring it on. UTFR!
Get the latest Manchester United news, opinion, interviews and exclusive features with the Stretty Newsletter – Ad Free! Kick off your afternoon with the Stretty News verdict on all matters Manchester United.