At long last, the phoney war is over. Let’s get on with the real business.
The new Premier League season gets underway on Saturday and those expected to challenge for the title have completed their pre-season preparations, if not quite all of their transfer dealings.
Ahead of the big kick-off, here is a look at what Manchester United have done this preseason.
What’s gone right?
United’s summer transfer business has been conducted with a cool efficiency. New manager Jose Mourinho targeted four new signings – Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba – and is one medical away from completing all of them. Mourinho has transformed the mood of the club, started to forge an iron-tough team spirit and restored the optimism of the supporters, blowing away the cobwebs of the Louis van Gaal era.
What needs work?
There is a danger, however, that United may enter the season a little undercooked. Mourinho wasn’t happy with a chaotic tour to China that saw problems with pitches, flights and the weather, forcing the cancellation of what would have been a useful friendly with Manchester City in Beijing. There were still signs of rust in Wayne Rooney’s testimonial with Everton and the Community Shield, but the team are clearly getting there slowly. Mourinho has also said he wants to work with a trimmed squad of 23 players – notably banishing German veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger to the reserves – and he’d be advised to get the unwanted players out on loan – and quick.
Not bad on the whole. They were taught a lesson by razor-sharp Borussia Dortmund, losing 4-1 in Shanghai, and were disappointed by the cancellation of their tour match with City. A strong second-half performance saw Galatasaray beaten 5-2 in Gothenburg, offering a little glimpse of United’s attacking prowess. But they fired a disappointing blank against Everton and survived a few scares before beating Leicester at Wembley on Sunday. Of encouragement will be the two goals scored by Ibrahimovic.
Hey, big spenders. Mourinho and United knew they would have to splash the cash this summer to restore themselves as genuine title challengers and have done so. £30m went on Bailly and £26m on Mkhitaryan, while out-of-contract Ibrahimovic arrived from Paris Saint-Germain for free (albeit it a large salary). But those three are about to be overshadowed by the world record £100m plus return of Pogba, expected to be completed early this week, and, once he is included, the spine of United’s side has been significantly reinforced.
Bailly, who came in from Villarreal, has looked rock solid at the back and Mourinho believes he has ‘unearthed a gem’ in the Ivorian, who has already drawn comparisons with Rio Ferdinand.
July 16 – 2-0 v Wigan Athletic
July 22 – 1-4 v Borussia Dortmund
July 30 – 5-2 v Galatasaray
August 7 – 2-1 v Leicester City