Manchester United will go head to head with Liverpool in their opening pre-season match which will be played on Tuesday in the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. Both United and Liverpool will be playing their first matches this summer.
It will be a baptism of fire for United’s new manager, Erik ten Hag who will face a possibly fiery North West Derby – but the one in the Premier League next month will be the one to win – this one will be about match fitness and finding out which players have adapted to his methods.
It is possible that Ten Hag will utilise a 4-3-3 formation, which I have gone with but it is all very possible that he will revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation which has been used over the past few seasons, which shows United’s weakness in midfield, especially in the pivot.
This summer could solvate problems in that area, or at least it should as I feel this is the main position where United lose matches because they are lacking a player that can enforce the midfield and enhance both the defence and the attack.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-3-3
Wan-Bissaka, Tuanzebe, Maguire, Shaw;
Van de Beek, Garner, Fernandes;
Elanga, Martial, Sancho
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea was one of the standout players at United last season. If he was not in goal for much of the season, the deficit of goals could have been much greater as United seemed to lose all notion of what they were supposed to be doing.
That will need to change this summer with United needing to turn the corner permanently and not look back. De Gea will be rivalled by Tom Heaton this summer and perhaps Thomas Strakosha, who is reportedly going to sign for the club.
De Gea has served the club well for 11 years now and is nearing the end of his current contract with one year remaining but the option of another year on the table too. Ten Hag will find out what he needs to do this season and whether De Gea is the future of the club or not.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
The defence is perhaps one of the problems this summer because of the way they played last season. If David De Gea was not in goal, United could well have had a negative goal difference which would have contributed further to the poor season the club had.
I would expect to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka give a chance at right-back, which could buy him time or get him in the shop window to find a permanent move this summer. Luke Shaw could start at left-back, which will see him being rivalled by Tyrell Malacia who signed for the club last week.
In the centre of the defence, Axel Tuanzebe could start alongside Harry Maguire, who is the current captain of the club – but that could change. Tuanzebe seems to be surplus to requirements this summer and a new signing could seal his fate at the club.
The entire back four could change in the second half of the match, which would see other players get at least 45 minutes under their belts in pre-season as they will need to be match fit for the Premier League season starting in just under a month.
Midfielders: Donny Van de Beek, James Garner, Bruno Fernandes;
The midfield looks packed in the pre-season squad but many of the players are lacking experience. To start this match I would like to see a midfield trio of Donny van de Beek, James Garner and Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese midfielder could play just behind the striker.
This would leave a two-man midfield to get the dirty work done. Van de Beek could well find his true position where Fernandes plays but these things will work themselves out throughout the pre-season matches and into the new season – especially if new signings come – and they should.
In the second half of the match the entire midfield could change which could consist of a mixture of experience and youth or even a change of formation giving more players the opportunity to get some match fitness ahead of the rigours of the new season.
Forwards: Anthony Elanga, Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho
United’s attacking line will require improvement this summer, not necessarily new signings but that will be needed if Cristiano Ronaldo leave the club this summer. In this match, United will save some of the big names for the second half, not starting them.
In this instance, Anthony Elanga could start in the right-wing position which was where he played some of the time last season. It would be good to see Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford but one of them will be left out from the start to play in the second half. That will be Rashford.
Sancho played better on the left-wing last season but Ten Hag’s methods might make it work for him on the right-wing, which will place Elanga on the left. Anthony Martial has returned to the club and seem happy, for now and he will most likely start as the main striker, perhaps for the season?
Ten Hag will have plenty of players to choose from when he needs to make changes in this match. I would expect the goalkeepers to get 45 minutes each with one of Tom Heaton, Nathan Bishop or Matej Kovar to be picked to play in the second half of this match.
In defence, it is expected that the majority of the back four will play 45 minutes too given that most have been training for a fortnight. The Dutchman will be able to choose from Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Tyrell Malacia, Raphael Varane, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles and Ethan Laird in the second half.
In the midfield and the attacking midfield positions, this is where United are perhaps the weakest at this time and require reinforcement – which could yet come. Ten Hag has Amad Diallo, Fred, Facundo Pellistri, Scott McTominay, Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal to choose from.
The attacking ranks are perhaps an area that requires some reinforcement this summer, if Cristiano Ronaldo does end up leaving the club, which seems to be quite likely at this time. The likes of Marcus Rashford, Tahith Chong and Alejandro Garnacho could be entrusted too.
Written by John Walker