Manchester United’s summer has been gradual, but [insert traditional comparison to bus arrival pattern here] Erik ten Hag’s squad is beginning to take shape. Last but not least.
It may have been a worryingly quiet June, with Tyrell Malacia the sole new signing before United headed off on their pre-season tour, but signings are now flowing through the door. Christian Eriksen became the club’s second signing on Friday, signing a three-year deal after leaving Brentford.
Lisandro Martinez, the club’s next new signing, is expected to arrive in Manchester this weekend to complete his medical before committing his future to the club until 2027. United will spend £46 million for the Ajax center-back to strengthen their defensive options.
Ten Hag’s work isn’t done, as additional players are expected to be signed before the window ends on September 1. Even if they are, United’s strongest starting XI may not look entirely different.
Ten Hag has already begun work on strengthening the players he already has at his disposal, and players like Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Fred, and Marcus Rashford are reinvigorated and full of newfound confidence after just a couple of games. Of course, those were simply friendly matches, and nothing should be read into them, but there have been some encouraging signals that comprehensive reforms may not be as essential as previously feared.
As a result, when United returns to competitive action, the backline may not change at all. David de Gea will remain in goal, with Dalot, captain Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, and Luke Shaw set to form the strongest defense. The difference this year is that those players will face stiff competition for a spot, and any lapse in performance might cost them their spot.
Malacia will compete for a starting berth at left-back, while big-money addition Martinez will be ready to step in at center-back if either of the first-choice duo fails to improve on their abysmal-to-middling performances last season.
The biggest change would be in midfield, and it all relies on if United can complete the tricky deal for top target, Frenkie de Jong. For the past ten weeks, United has been working on a deal to sign the midfielder, whom Ten Hag has chosen as the ideal guy to help instill his style of football at United.
De Jong has made it obvious that he wants to stay at Barcelona, but the cash-strapped Catalans are doing everything they can to force him out and have reached a comprehensive fee deal with United. Nonetheless, the Dutchman has been named to Barcelona’s pre-season tour of the United States.
With De Jong still due deferred wages by the club, the transaction is unlikely to be completed anytime soon, but if United does manage to sign him, he will immediately join Ten Hag’s squad. He’d most likely play in a three-man midfield with Bruno Fernandes and possibly Fred.
New signee Eriksen will also be vying for a slot in the middle, and his finesse on the ball would make him well suited to Ten Hag’s side, although Scott McTominay, Zidane Iqbal, and fellow prodigy Hannibal Mejbri are all options.
It will be intriguing to observe how United lines up in attack when the season begins. The ideal case is for Cristiano Ronaldo to stay at the club despite his desire to go, and to return inspired to lead the line for another season. If he leaves, Anthony Martial, who has impressed thus far in pre-season, may be left as the primary striker.
If Ten Hag is able to fulfill his ambition of bringing in another versatile forward – and that has gone quiet, with a move for Antony appearing unlikely this summer – they may have to start on the bench and work their way into the starting lineup as well. That’s because it appears that Sancho and Rashford will be the first-choice wingers for the time being.
United’s starting XI may not alter much even if Ten Hag signs every player he wants this summer, but their roster will undoubtedly be much more talented overall.