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Pre-season Prayers: Who needs to step it up to stand a chance this summer?

Pre-season, a time for new signings to be paraded in front of millions of foreign fans and old favourites to be worshipped. The limelight is so often on the new stars – as will be discovered Saturday morning when the new guard of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin step out in a United shirt for the first time. Though the new quartet will be very much in the focus, this preseason holds higher importance for a few familiar faces looking to prove to the manager they are capable in spite of the new additions.

Of course it is the same for almost all of the squad travelling out to America, but there are certain stars that need a good preseason more than most on the back of the new arrivals. Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia all have places under threat as a result of the arrivals, and Chris Smalling and Phil Jones could well find themselves in the shadows if a new centre half is captured before September 1st. So what does each have to do to prove themselves?

Luke Shaw is the obvious candidate to start with. Weight and fitness were massive issues in the England full backs first season at Old Trafford. Performances were never the issue, he showed maturity and ability that backed up his inflated transfer fee. However, reports are quite promising coming out of the club. The Mirror reported that Shaw had lost half a stone over the summer, and pictures that have been dotted about in the media show it too. With the influx of central midfielders, his main competitor is Daley Blind for the left back position, it is imperative for him that he proves his fitness.

Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini are both very much in the same boat. This time 12 months ago most wanted them sold. Deemed nowhere near good enough for Louis van Gaal’s squad, finding fans of theirs was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Young had a stellar preseason last summer, and took that form into the new season after his injuries (and the glob of bird poo he swallowed) and by the end of matters he had earned himself a fair few more friends. The arrival of Memphis Depay has thrown his place into doubt. What Young needs this preseason is an emulation of his form last summer, he needs to remind his manager that he is capable and can be a star once more.

Fellaini is the same. He ended up being an important player for van Gaal, but Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin arriving throw his chances the same way as Young’s. Fellaini needs to impress. Another facing life as a squad player is Antonio Valencia. He spent the lions share of last season at Right Back, and Matteo Darmian is a certainty to play there. His natural position is rather well populated too. Hope may be lost on a regular place, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion. He clearly is part of the managers plans, else he would have been shipped out, the question is whether he can force his way in or not.

Then there is Smalling and Jones. One would assume at least one will miss out – Marcos Rojo will most likely be a first choice, as would any potential signing. The question is which one? Chris Smalling ended the season on a high, and is surely in pole position for a starter place. Phil Jones needs to prove his fitness (a la Shaw) to give himself any opportunity. Lagging behind Smalling and Rojo, Jones could find himself fourth choice if someone else walks through the door.

It certainly is an odd time pre-season. Not really a great deal can be taken from it, but certainly some significance can be placed on how players perform. The ones named are simply those that sprang to mind, no one’s place is certain. It is going to be an interesting summer on more than one front (if it wasn’t enough already) and I can’t wait.

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