17 conclusions from Manchester United's 2022/23 pre-season

Manchester United’s pre-season is over and it is time to prepare for the real kick-off. The games which matter begin this coming weekend.

United’s pre-season began with a morale boosting victory against Liverpool, a 4-0 win, but the initial wave of three victories trailed off, with two draws and one defeat from the last three matches.

This may be a positive, preventing Erik ten Hag getting misled by meaningless games. We all remember how Louis van Gaal’s brilliant 2014 pre-season turned out to be a false dawn.

Ahead of United’s opening game against Brighton on Sunday, lets check in on the state of Manchester United and what we have learned. Here is a look at 17 conclusions from Manchester United’s 2022/23 pre-season.

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David de Gea is undisputed number one – for better or worse

David de Gea enters this season without uncertainty over his position, thanks to Dean Henderson’s loan to Nottingham Forest.

It’s too early to say whether this is actually a positive. De Gea showed in United’s win over Liverpool that he is willing to respond to manager Erik ten Hag and play more of a sweeper-keeper role.

But in the draw with Aston Villa his weakness defending crosses was exposed, and it is going to be hard to escape this. There is only so much change De Gea can make to his game at this stage of his career.

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The right-back spot is Diogo Dalot’s to lose

A year ago Diogo Dalot was an afterthought who was nearly sent out on loan. After winning back his place as the season went on, Dalot won back the starting spot.

His performances in pre-season have been excellent, helping United to forge a strong attacking connection down the right side.

Wan-Bissaka looks like he has no future at the club, and the right-back spot is now Dalot’s to lose. The defender could play a prominent role in United’s season.

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Lisandro Martinez has thrown centre-back position wide open

Erik ten Hag clearly wanted to shake up Manchester United’s defence, understandably, after the club conceded a highest ever goal tally last season in the Premier League.

New signing Lisandro Martinez will toughen the defence up and add a new attitude to the backline. His arrival shakes up the competition for places.

Harry Maguire is the captain but won’t be guaranteed to start. Raphael Varane impressed against Rayo at the weekend, and Victor Lindelof is in the mix too. Competition for places is wide open, and that’s a positive.

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Manchester United are struggling to shift unwanted players

It was a relief to finally cash in on Andreas Pereira to Fulham, while Dylan Levitt was also sold, in addition to a number of releases.

But there are a number of players surplus to requirements, who have not yet found a new club. Brandon Williams, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are just a few who need to leave for their own sakes, along with Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

So far it has been a struggle to find buyers, and it is possible United may have to compromise and loan players out just to get their wages off the books.

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Tyrell Malacia is going to give Luke Shaw a much-needed jolt

Luke Shaw’s long-standing injury flared up at the end of last season and Alex Telles proved to be an unsatisfactory stand-in.

New signing Tyrell Malacia will give United a new edge at left-back, and provide extra competition for Shaw, who took a step backwards last season.

Heading into the opening game of the season, it’s unclear who will start, with Malacia impressive in pre-season. The young Dutchman has done very well already to put himself right in the mix.

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Fred and Scott McTominay are unbelievably set to start the season as first choice

It’s hard to believe we are starting the season with Fred and Scott McTominay as the club’s first choice midfielders again.

This has to go down as a failure of the club’s recruitment policy, although this can turn around if the Frenkie de Jong deal finally gets done. But there’s a long way to go.

Manchester United needed an overhaul after last season, and it just doesn’t feel like we are ready. Scott McTominay in particular needs to improve majorly after a very disappointing season last time out.

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United have unearthed a star in Zidane Iqbal

One player who has really blossomed in pre-season has been youngster Zidane Iqbal. The 19-year-old has seized his chance and shown he is ready to contribute at a first team level.

Iqbal never panics when he is in possession, and is the type of player who manager Erik ten Hag could love working with.

A special mention to Charlie Savage too, who has also shone, but it is Iqbal who looks a little closer to gatecrashing the first team this season.

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Donny van de Beek has a role to play – it’s just unclear what it is yet

Donny van de Beek is the only player to feature in all six of Manchester United’s first team games, and he is going to have a role to play under Erik ten Hag.

It’s just a little unclear quite what it will be. Ten Hag said he feels Van de Beek is best playing in an attacking midfield role, but competition for places means he will rarely start.

He has featured in the last couple of friendlies in a deeper midfield role, with mixed results. One thing is clear, he will get a fairer crack than he did under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

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Christian Eriksen is going to be a class act and help Bruno Fernandes out

It only took a few minutes of Christian Eriksen’s first friendly match for the Dane to create a chance. He looks to have settled instantly.

Eriksen will be a big help to Bruno Fernandes, who has suffered from being overplayed at Manchester United and not rested.

This will be crucial amid a packed fixture list, and the pair could be used together. This will help take some of the pressure away on Fernandes to produce.

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Jadon Sancho is ready for his breakout season

Jadon Sancho scored three goals in pre-season, just one fewer than he did in the whole of last season for Manchester United.

He looks like a different player, confident, assured, and clinical. Now settled at United and with a clean slate, it looks like Sancho is in for a big season.

Along with Marcus Rashford, the duo have benefitted from a proper summer break. Sancho missed the pre-season friendly with Atletico and United were poorer for it. He could become the key man in attack.

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Anthony Elanga looks a long way off

Anthony Elanga enters this season with everything to prove. There has been a big drop-off in quality when he comes into the front three.

Elanga has failed to break his scoring drought either, with his last goal coming away at Atletico in February.

The young Swede is far from convincing, and needs to take his game to another level this season to ensure a long-term future at the club.

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Anthony Martial might really be ‘back’

Anthony Martial has somehow managed to get Manchester United fans buying in again, after seeming to have no way back.

Martial scored three times and has been excellent with his link-up play, helping Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, in a way Cristiano Ronaldo never managed to gel with either.

This could be a false dawn, we need to see Martial do it for real when the season starts. If he plays like he has been, then we may see a similar goal return to his 23-goal season in 2019/20.

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Ronaldo has potential to be a huge distraction if he stays

Cristiano Ronaldo’s future is uncertain, playing just 45 minutes of the club’s last pre-season friendly. There is a good case to simply release him and let him move on.

If Ronaldo stays, there are two paths. He could take the rejection he has faced from Champions League clubs this summer and use it to motivate himself to produce an even better campaign to last season.

Or he could become a big distraction, especially if he is not starting games. Keeping an unhappy Ronaldo could undermine Erik ten Hag’s project, and United need to be very cautious.

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Manchester United’s attacking depth is nowhere near good enough

Manchester United needed a young new striker before the Ronaldo situation blew up. Now the need is even more pronounced.

Anthony Martial has struggled with fitness and injuries over the past two years, and relying on him could backfire.

Regardless of whether Ronaldo stays or goes, Manchester United need a young, hungry striker who the club can build around.

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Hannibal, Shoretire, and Amad need loans

A succession of loan deals are likely before the transfer window closes. Hannibal does not quite look ready for first team football at United and does not have a role in the team.

Shola Shoretire is another, failing to even make the pre-season tour, while Amad has shown flashes, he is not going to be a starter for United either.

United have to be cautious not to loan too many players, with a big fixture list in the first half of the season, but it is possible we could see as many as 10 youngsters head out before the transfer deadline, perhaps more.

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Erik ten Hag is going to change Manchester United for the better

New manager Erik ten Hag has been a breath of fresh air so far. He appears to be through, incisive, and focused on helping to improve this group of players and maximising their potential.

United have a proper coach, who is raising standards, and wants to get the club playing good, modern football, and will make the team more competitive.

He isn’t a miracle worker, he needs more signings before the transfer window is over, but from what we have seen so far, Ten Hag has already lit a fire under this group of players, who are buying into his methods. We are expecting a strong season, despite the squad’s obvious weaknesses.

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Alejandro Garnacho is the real deal

It took only one pre-season game for Alejandro Garnacho to make his mark and show he is ready for first team football.

Garnacho was superb in United’s friendly with Rayo, showing his directness, his burst of pace and willingness to run with the ball and make life difficult for opponents.

He could be a dangerous impact substitute and play a big role in the Europa League group stages. The FA Youth Cup winner might be the club’s ‘secret weapon’ this season, and it is going to be exciting to see how he develops.

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