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Manchester United: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

With an imbalanced squad on bloated wages, there's not much optimism at Old Trafford heading into the 2019/20 season. The Manchester United rebuild starts now.

Last season's Premier League finish: 6th - (W19 D9 L10 - F65 A54 - Pts 66)

Last season's top scorer: Paul Pogba - 13 (16 in all competitions)

To finish in top four*: 11/10

First five fixtures: Chelsea (H), Wolves (A), Crystal Palace (H), Southampton (A), Leicester (H)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 6th

Predicted finish by The Script: 6th

Transfers in: Aaron Wan-Bissaka - Crystal Palace (£50m), Daniel James - Swansea (£15m), Harry Maguire - Leicester (£80m)

Transfers out: Romelu Lukaku - Inter Milan (£70m), James Wilson - Aberdeen (free), Antonio Valencia - LDU Quito (free), Ander Herrera - Paris Saint-Germain (free), Regan Poole - released, Dean Henderson - Sheff Utd (loan extended), Kieran O'Hara - Burton (loan), Matthew Olosunde - Rotherham (loan), Alex Fojticek - Stalybridge (loan)

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Reasons to be optimistic

The rebuild starts here. After another chastening campaign, Manchester United fans are eager for the club to begin moving in a different direction.

There were extenuating circumstances in 2018/19. Jose Mourinho was already at war with the board heading into the campaign and his position soon became untenable. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was parachuted into a dysfunctional situation and, temporarily at least, looked to have found the solution.

The run of eight wins in nine league matches that followed his arrival on an initial interim deal gave supporters a reminder of the good times. Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard suddenly looked like different players and United were attacking with a potency and purpose absent under Mourinho.

It didn't last. United’s form tailed off badly during the run-in and now Solskjaer will be hoping to rediscover his mojo in time for the visit of Chelsea on the opening day of the season.

With a full pre-season under his belt, the Norwegian can leave a firmer imprint on the squad. He must strike the balance between youth and experience while deciding how to handle the underperforming stars on huge wages. If he can manage that, the United of 2019/20 will be a more unified side.

Martial is one of the most exciting forwards in the division on his day but like many of United's players, the 23-year-old struggles with inconsistency. Similarly Rashford has shown flashes of brilliance since breaking into the first team but went missing for large stretches of the 2018/19 campaign.

Following the departure of Romelu Lukaku, this feels like a huge season in the career of Martial and Rashford. The onus is on both strikers to deliver.

The signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka indicate a change in recruitment policy. Both are lightning quick and will add impetus to United’s right wing when they feature together. Teenage forward Mason Greenwood impressed in pre-season and will be given further chances this campaign. 

In defence, Victor Lindelof has emerged as one of the better centre-backs in the division in an area where United have struggled for consistency. The Swede should be given the chance to form a solid partnership with Harry Maguire, who joined for a record-breaking £80 million switch from Leicester City after being trailed by United for more than a year.

The hope is that Maguire, so dominant in the air and confident coming out with the ball, can help plug the holes in the rearguard, while also helping to start attacks and get them moving up the pitch much quicker. Ed Woodward paid a premium but the 26-year-old is undoubtedly an upgrade on what United have got.

There’s a lot of work still to do and United will not challenge for the title this season. But the first steps have been taken and United supporters must now hope the only way is up.

Reasons to be fearful

A glance at United’s Premier League results in 2018/19 illustrates a season that began and ended with two awful patches of form, given an air of respectability by Solskjaer’s success between December and March.

The question is which is the real United. The one that flickered briefly when Solskjaer took over? Or the one that trudged into the season under Mourinho and fell apart once his replacement was handed a permanent deal?

There is evidently dysfunction in the Old Trafford dressing room and that disharmony has defined performances on the pitch. 

The Solskjaer boost was just that – a temporary improvement in results that coincided with the return of a fan favourite at a time when United were desperately searching for their DNA. But the feel-good factor wore off and once the tide turned, he could do little to stop the rot. Based on his CV, the 46-year-old is miles behind the other coaches of the top six sides.

United have issues all over the pitch. Pogba has remained beyond the English transfer deadline despite agitating for a move to Real Madrid but the circus around him will once again prove an unwelcome distraction.

The Frenchman is undoubtedly one of the finest midfielders in Europe and United's most talented player but his inconsistency is confounding. Pogba is unable to string more than two good performances together and, for whatever reason, is a lightening rod for criticism - see the ugly scenes that followed United's lap of honour after the final home game of last season.

Alexis Sanchez is being paid £500,000 per week but is unrecognisable from the player who starred for Arsenal. David De Gea, arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, developed an alarming habit of dropping clangers last season. The departure of Ander Herrera is puzzling, too. 

The Spaniard was one of the few senior players who led by example on the pitch but he leaves a gaping hole in midfield after defecting to Paris Saint-Germain. Ashley Young's anointment as captain demonstrates the dearth of leadership in the dressing room.

Romelu Lukaku was a frustrating presence up front and United have done well to recoup £70m by selling him to Inter Milan this summer. But the Belgian was still the club's second-top scorer last season and Rashford and Martial will have to step up in his absence.

United’s haphazard defence leaked 54 goals – the most they’ve ever conceded in the Premier League era. The final five games of the season saw them lose 4-0 to Everton, 2-0 at rivals City, draw with Chelsea, draw with bottom side Huddersfield and lose at home to relegated Cardiff.

After finishing seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, second and sixth since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, mediocrity is becoming the norm at Old Trafford. There’s a long way to go to get back to the glory days.

Key man: Marcus Rashford

It was a tough season at Old Trafford and a tough season for Rashford. After being maligned by Jose Mourinho for “lacking maturity and courage” and finding his opportunities limited, the forward sprung to life briefly following Solskjaer’s initial appointment. Fittingly he scored the first goal of the Norwegian’s regime with a sensational free-kick away at Cardiff.

But he couldn’t maintain that run of five goals in seven games and as United’s form tailed off, so did Rashford’s as the forward went scoreless in his final eight matches of the campaign.

Solskjaer has shown a willingness to promote youth over more established senior stars. The coach will bid to restore Rashford’s confidence by entrusting him to replace Lukaku and lead the line next season, even if he will also face competition from Martial.

United fans desperate for some positive vibes will be hoping the Carrington product remains a fixture up top for years to come. A new contract extension until 2023 suggests he will.

The manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It’s been a rollercoaster nine months for Solskjaer at United. The Norwegian was parachuted in to steady the ship after a 3-1 defeat at Anfield spelled the end of Mourinho’s tenure. The loss to Liverpool meant United had begun the season on a run of just seven wins in 17 matches but Mourinho was doing even more damage off the pitch.

Even on the pre-season tour of the US, Mourinho was publicly criticising United’s board for not backing him in the transfer market. By the time December came, the ex-Chelsea boss was in full self-preservation mode. The football, his relationship with the board and indeed everything about him had become poisonous and Woodward had little choice but to sack him.

United needed to rediscover their identity and Solskjaer’s appointment, drenched with nostalgia, was designed to do just that. News of his return was accompanied by a photo of his iconic treble-clinching goal in 1999.

And the feel-good factor did briefly ignite an upturn in form. United won their next six Premier League matches and even turned around a 2-0 first-leg deficit against PSG to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals.

Players shackled by defensive responsibility under Mourinho were thriving under Solskjaer, with Pogba and Rashford accounting for 17 goals between mid-December and early March.

Buoyed by the upturn in form, Solskjaer was handed a three-year contract and almost immediately the wheels fell off. United won just one of their final seven Premier League matches as they limped home in sixth place.

Now a coach whose only previous experience of English football was relegation with Cardiff five years ago must head up the huge rebuilding job at Old Trafford and prove that Woodward’s faith has not been misplaced.

Fans' view - Brian Houten - Fleetwood Manchester United Supporters' Club

"The expectations were high with Mourinho in charge – by the time he comes into his third season he usually wins the big trophies. We were expecting to do a lot better than we did and the right decision was made to sack him when we did.

"The right call to make was to get in someone who would galvanise the team and the fanbase because under Mourinho it had become a chore to go to games.

"We have no divine right to win anything but the football was dire and the adrenaline kicked back in when Solskjaer arrived.
It all seemed hunky dory at the start but he’s inherited a group of players that are too unfit to keep up with the pressing game and that lack the willingness or ability to win the ball.

"The ridiculousness of bringing in Sanchez on that wage to spite City shows what we are up against without football people in charge of running the club.

"United need more captains and leaders on the field and we have got a big rebuild on our hands. I don’t know why the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young have been handed new contracts.

"I expect the younger players - Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes – to get more chances. We can’t afford to spend a trillion pounds and he’s got to be shrewd in the market.

"We must get the attitude right and the willingness to work and play as a team right - then I’m sure the way we play will improve. If United get the balance to the team back that could be big. There’s a core of players who would die for the shirt but there’s a few I’d be more than happy to see leave.

"We aren’t anywhere near challenging for the league because we are miles behind City and Liverpool but as long as we see an improvement next season the fans will be happier.

"It takes time. Everyone is looking for a superstar manager and Solskjaer is not a big name. But let’s give him a chance to see what he can do."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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