Manchester United’s pre-season tour in Asia came to an impressive halt with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. By maintaining a perfect 100% record and winning every single game down under, the atmosphere’s drastically changed since that dreadful final day nightmare in May.
Now, it’s not like everything’s suddenly fixed with a slew of pre-season victories. There are still persisting issues which demand some fixes, but some positives encourage promising signs. Here are four things we learned from the pre-season tour.
1. Mason Greenwood will get more chances to impress
A refreshing positive from the pre-season tour has been how the youngsters have shone through in exhausting conditions. Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes were both delightful to watch, but Mason Greenwood, I’m looking at you.
After having made his debut for United last season, he looks much sharper and stronger. The 17-year-old netted his debut senior goal in a smart tap-in against Leeds United but also showcased Van Persie like style with an emphatic winner against Inter Milan.
With Greenwood, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the option to shuffle around his tactics. While most people struggle to decide what to do in their lives at his age, Greenwood’s scoring goals for fun. He was quick going forward, while also clinical in front of goal. He also didn’t shy away from displaying his swagger (just look below how he bamboozled Inter’s Milan Skriniar).
17 year old Mason Greenwood making a fool of Skriniar…Deluded Interisti have the nerve to say this guy is the best defender in Serie A. pic.twitter.com/p98efS84Zw— Don Totti (@petrachi_fan) July 20, 2019
As Romelu Lukaku’s on the verge of leaving and no proper right-winger brought in, deputizing Greenwood as a make-shift right-back or super-sub centre-forward will diversify the effectiveness of United’s attack.
2. Paul Pogba still the man to build around
So Paul Pogba’s summer was an eventful one. First, he went to China to boost his brand image, but also reiterated the need for a “new challenge” after being slagged off by fans. Exit rumours came aplenty, but Solskjaer’s remained firm on wanting to influence his attacking movement through him.
To his credit, Pogba’s actually looked sharper than usual in the pre-season tour. He was energetic, vocal and packed with positive creativity in the hunt for goals. Sure, there were a few boos occasionally, but the Frenchman thrilled the fans by bossing the midfield game during the tour.
He’s taken new-boy Aaron Wan-Bissaka into his wing, superbly linking with him on the right. Pogba also influenced the new signings’ assist against Leeds United. Moreover, he played deeper, helped control possession more and also contributed defensively.
Yeah, he’s a problem child, but Pogba’s still the world-class star to build around to get the sparks flying again.
3. Manchester United need a leader in defence
So one thing which is obvious despite the glorious pre-season tour is United still need better defenders.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka displayed some strong defensive-work, a much-needed upgrade over the erroneous Ashley Young. Victor Lindelof– amidst a knock- was also assertive, while Luke Shaw solidified his spot for the regular season.
However, a world-class defender is still needed. Granted, United only conceded one goal in the Asia tour but looked shaky on numerous opportunities. Perth Glory, Leeds, Inter all fielded their weaker attackers, but still Marcos Rojo, as well as Phil Jones, looked uneasy. Tottenham Hotspur almost exposed the defensive frailties, but pre-season blues restricted them from handing out a thrashing.
Be it the heavily-linked Harry Maguire or anyone else, United need a stronger leader to hold the defensive line. They need someone to bully strikers, lung into clearances to make life easier for David de Gea. Inflated fees be damned, a top defender must be prioritized above anything else in this transfer window.
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s positivity is a good thing
There’s a clear parallel to Manchester United’s pre-season tour this year than the gloomy atmosphere under Jose Mourinho last season. The difference is Solskjaer.
Now, I don’t regard him as good tactically as his recent predecessors. However, there’s something addictive about his irresistible positivity. OGS got dealt with persistent hard-hitting questions regarding incoming or outgoing transfers, despite him promising a rebuild last season.
However, he never lost his cool, answering every question without compromising anyone in his squad. As a result, he’s made Pogba a happy chap again by entrusting all his resources upon him. Unlike Mourinho, the players actually love giving their 100% for him, which was displayed in some tireless, energetic performances.
His upbeat attitude is why OGS will always have the fans backing him and even though he’s unlikely to win a big trophy anytime soon, he’s the man to usher United on the road back to the top.
The man at the top of the list of the disgruntled stars of the summer got his own piece earlier today on High Press Soccer. But Neymar is just one of several high-profile players pining for a change of scenery.
Below is a quick look at three other players who want out.
Paul Pogba transfer updates
If not for Neymar, Pogba would have generated more will-he-or-won’t-he headlines than anyone this summer.
The Frenchman has not been quite as outspoken as the Brazilian, but between him and his superagent, Mino Raiola, Pogba has generated plenty of noise in his own right. Manchester United has the difficult task of trying to sell a world-class player on a season where the most it can realistically aspire to is a Europa League trophy (this club isn’t winning the Premier League). Real Madrid seems to be the most likely destination, but that currently appears like a remote possibility after all the money Los Blancos have already spent this summer.
The “verdict”: At least one more year in Manchester.
Has anyone had a more interesting last few seasons than Bale? While he’s had some incredible moments, particularly in the Champions League, Bale has rarely, if at all, been prominently featured at RM.
This is not the first, or even the second, summer when Bale has sought an exit, but his age (30) and contract situation (he’s scheduled to make €17M/$19.1M per year for three more years) have limited his suitors.
Saturday, when RM Manager Zinedine Zidane benched him for a friendly against Bayern Munich because, in Zidane’s words, Bale “is very close to leaving,” it was the first time all summer a move appeared truly imminent. As much as I hate to call Zidane a liar, I find it hard to believe that Bale has found a team interested in paying top dollar to a player who has played in 79 of 151 possible games in La Liga the last four years
The “verdict”: At the risk of this being proven wrong in the next 48 hours, I’ll say he’s staying put.
Is it just me, or does it seem like Costa’s 20-goal, seven-assist ’16-17 season for Chelsea happened a lifetime ago? At that point, Costa had scored 20 goals in domestic play in three of four seasons dating back to ’13-14
Two seasons later, it’s unclear how much he has left, as he has made just 27 appearances combined since returning to Atletico Madrid in ’17-18. He also seems likely to take a backseat to Álvaro Morata and João Félix in the years to come. Everton has been mentioned as a possible landing spot, and is not the only EPL club that is reportedly interested.
Costa seems like the likeliest of these three players to make a move. It would not surprise me to see him playing next season for Everton or another second-tier EPL club hoping to unseat one of the league’s big six for a spot in Europe in ’20-21.
The “verdict”: Costa’s disappointing return to Atleti will end sometime in the next month.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) announced their Premier League Team of the Year last week and Player of the Year on Sunday.
No surprises on the Player of the Year: Liverpool center-back Virgil van Dijk won the award. He was the odds-on favorite to do so for over a month. VVD became the first defensive player to win the honor since the 2004-05 season when Chelsea‘s John Terry was recognized as England’s best footballer.
Underscoring VVD’s year, here’s a stat: NOT ONE SINGLE PLAYER HAS DRIBBLED PAST HIM IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE THIS CAMPAIGN.
Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool in the Premier League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 28, 2019
🔴 Most touches (3,262)
🔴 Most passes (2,847)
🔴 Most duels won (228)
🔴 Most clearances (193)
🔴 Most aerial duels won (170)
🔴 Most interceptions (40)
🔴 Most shots blocked (17)
The Shield of Anfield. 🛡 pic.twitter.com/AXqR4oEfI9
While the Player of the Year was absent of any drama, that wasn’t the case for the Team of the Year.
Is there any data, at all, that shows that Paul Pogba was more deserving than Edez Hazard?
By basically every statistic, Eden Hazard is a demonstrably better soccer player than Paul Pogba this year.
Eden Hazard's stats for the 2018/19 Premier League season so far…— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) April 25, 2019
Absolute madness he didn't make the TOTY! 😳 pic.twitter.com/5aFQTCphgz
Let’s just say…Pogba’s stats don’t line up well with the above.
|Dispossessed/ Game||Tackles / Game|
There are very few areas we can find that Pogba out-performed Hazard this year. While Hazard gets a slight knock defensively (he rarely wins tackles, however he’s also dribbled past less often than Pogba, .3 to .8 times per game, respectively), he far outshines Pogba offensively.
Hazard should’ve been on the team of the year.
As should’ve Mo Salah. But that’s another story for another time.
17 fouls, 5 bookings (including a red for Paul Pogba), and Manchester United suffer their first loss under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, bowing to Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 in their Leg 1 Champions League Round of 16 match-up.
In a painfully overly officiated game that included 9 total bookings, the refs treated PSG like they were a bunch of Frenchmen playing in a vastly inferior league…which…oh yeah.
On one hand, Man U didn’t do enough to win. Of their 10 shots on goal, only 1 was on target (compared to 12 and 5 for PSG). They were out-possessed 56-44%. PSG looked like the better team as the game went on. On the other hand, the sheer volume of fouls (17 to 7) made playing the game with any physicality and rhythm a challenge.
The game was 0-0 at the half. PSG came out fast in the second half, scoring both goals in the first 15 minutes (Presnel Kimpembe (53′) and Kylian Mbappé (60′)).
Since Leg 1 was at Old Trafford, United have a monumental challenge in front of them if they want to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. PSG have this all but locked up.
The other game today featured Roma vs. Porto. Roma won 2-1, but that away goal from Porto may prove critical.
In yet another “all grows up” moment for the MLS, Manchester United global superstar Paul Pogba announced on his Instagram stories that his older brother Florentin Pogba has signed with Atlanta United.
— Dirty South Soccer – MLS Champions Blog (@DirtySouthSoc) February 2, 2019
As Dirty South Soccer sort of pointed out, a figure with as large of a following as Pogba bringing attention to the Five Stripes is a cool moment for the club.
But does any of this mean Florentin Pogba can be an impact player for Atlanta United?
The Book on Florentin Pogba
Florentin Pogba, 28, is a defender most recently with Turkey’s Genclerbirligi S.K. (yes, his contract was not renewed there which made him available and no, Genclerbirligi is not something a toddler just randomly pounded on my keyboard just now, that’s the actual club name).
He’s spent time on France’s U20 squad and has been semi-active on Guinea’s national team since 2010, where he has 21 appearances.
The elder Pogba has (quite literally) struggled to stay on the pitch for European clubs, including a blow up with teammates after receiving a red card while at Genclerbirligi (the picture in that link says it all).
Those expecting Pogba to be a difference-maker on the pitch might need to temper their expectations. However, he should still provide quality depth on the backline for the reigning MLS champs while providing the Five Stripes with one new celebrity fan to boot.