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Axel Tuanzebe: Where do we go from here?

At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Manchester United fans were excited to see what Academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe could bring to their defence after being promoted to the first team squad following on from an extremely impressive season on loan in the Championship at Aston Villa. 

Since then, however, injuries and the signing of defenders ahead of him in the pecking order have meant that Tuanzebe has been unable to put a run of games together in a United shirt, leading to the now 24-year-old being sent on loan this season once again to Aston Villa, who are now in the Premier League, to get much needed playing time. So where does this leave the defender? 

It is fair to say that over two seasons (2019/20 and 2020/21) Tuanzebe had more positive appearances in a United shirt than he did negative. His performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last season stands out in memory, after almost 10 months on the side-lines through various injuries Tuanzebe’s first game back would be away from Old Trafford against one of the best players in the world, Kylian Mbappe. 

However, the defender held his own and showed tremendous ability, after the game Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager at the time, stated‘Axel’s a tremendous defender, a great leader. He’s come through the Academy, and we’ve known for years that he’s going to be a top player for us’, it felt like a real turning point in the defenders career. 

However, the defender did not push on after this performance, only making 19 appearances across all competitions for United that season. During the season he only started four games in the league, with the partnership of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf earning the trust of the manager. The season prior, 2019/20, the defender only made 11 appearances across all competitions for United in a season that was hampered by three separate injuries. This unfortunately meant that after his breakthrough season on loan, Tuanzebe’s career had stalled. 

While there can be no doubt about the defender’s ability, it must be noted that, at present, there are four defenders ahead of him in the pecking order due to their ability and experience at the top level: Maguire, Raphael Varane, Lindelöf and Eric Bailly. 

It could be argued that on his best form Tuanzebe is picked above Bailly and possibly Lindelöf due to his technical ability, however, he simply has not shown his consistency at the highest level to be considered an instant starter at a club like United. A decent season at fellow Premier League club Aston Villa may change that. 

So far, Tuanzebe has only made nine appearances for Villa this season across all competitions. Out of 14 Premier League games this season, he has only started six, even more worryingly, since the dismissal of Dean Smith as manager on the 7 November, as reported by BBC Sport, Tuanzebe has not played a single minute for Aston Villa. 

This could perhaps show that new manager Steven Gerrard is wanting to work with players that are not on loan as can sometimes be the case, or that he has fallen out of favour entirely. 

United will be hoping that over the Christmas period Tuanzebe can play himself into favour with the new manager, as the main reason he is on loan at the club is to play regular minutes at the top level. 

If he does not manage to do so, the club may think of recalling the defender back from loan and loaning him elsewhere or holding on to him as a back up option for new manager Ralf Rangnick, who may well give Tuanzebe more opportunities. 

For now, however, it looks as though the defender has a tough time ahead of him under new management, which could possibly signal the beginning of the end for the Academy graduate at his boyhood club. 

Fans will keep the faith that the prospect can break through to the first team as he is one of their own, however, at the age of 24, Tuanzebe and those around him need to decide what the best move is for the player, which may well be away from United for good. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Loan Watch: Pereira, Chong, Williams, Tuanzebe and more rated during loan spells

This season Manchester United look to have taken full advantage of the loan system in place this season, sending 15 players out on loan to various clubs within the country, and some abroad. United have a past of making good use of the loan system to develop promising players within the academy and getting them acclimatised to the pace and harshness of the adult leagues. A key example of this being David Beckham’s loan to Preston North End in 1995. So how are this seasons loanees getting on? 

Andreas Pereira – Flemengo

Pereira is a conundrum for many United fans as he is a player who has shown signs of immense ability but has never managed to be consistent when given the chance in United’s first team. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave the Brazilian ample opportunity in the 2019/20 season, consistently starting the Academy player in midfield, however, the midfielder only managed two goals and four assists in 40 appearances for United. 

After the singing of Bruno Fernandes, who plays in the same position as Pereira, United deciding a loan was the best thing for the player. After a disappointing loan spell at Lazio last season, the Brazilian decided to play in his native country, choosing to play for Flamengo. 

The playmaker has played 10 games for the Brazilian club, netting two goals and one assist. While these numbers are not disastrous, it is worrying that in a league that is far below the standard of the Premier League Pereira is not shining and standing out. Interestingly, the loan deal does include a £20 million option to buy, should the midfielder be a success at the club. 

With the way things are going at Manchester United, it would not surprise any Manchester United fan is the Academy player were to stay at Flemengo and leave Manchester for good. 

For now, the loan spell is seemingly average. 5/10. 

Facundo Pellistri – Deportivo Alaves

Pellistri was possibly the most surprising signing United made in the 2020 summer transfer window, with the winger being signed on deadline day for around £10 million. Pellistri was an unknown to United fans who were eager to see what the winger could do. 

United have sent the youngster on two consecutive loans to Alaves in La Liga, last season he made 12 appearancesfor the club but managed no attacking returns during this time. However, Pellistri was sent during January so did not have a full season to bed in and show his ability. 

This season, United did not hesitate in sending Pellistri back to the La Liga outfit, making sure he was there for the start of the season ready to hit the ground running. It would seem as though the Uruguayan is not in favour at the club, having only made seven appearances this season most of which coming off the bench. 

His total appearances add up to only 195 minutes so far. This loan has been so disappointing that reports have begun emerging this week that Manchester United are considering recalling Pellistri prematurely, this is due to a concern over lack of playing time and a clause that was in the loan agreement stating that United had the power to recall the player in December 2020 if he has not played 1000 minutes for the club by December, as reported by The Mirror

This has been a disappointing start to his loan for Pellistri. 2/10. 

Brandon Williams – Norwich City

Brandon Williams is a player who burst onto the scene at United in the 2019/20 season, with Solskjaer giving the fullback from the academy 2,439 minutes across all competitions. During his breakout season the Academy player managed one goal and two assists, but also racked up 10 yellow cards during this season, which comes as no surprise to United fans who know of the youngster’s temperament. 

Even so it was a positive break out season for the left back and many United fans thought he was here to stay as a back-up for Luke Shaw. The following season however, Williams played much less, playing only 658 minutes all season. This being the main reason why United fans were not surprised to hear the Academy player had been sent on loan to fellow Premier League club Norwich this season to gain playing time. 

Norwich is seemingly the perfect fit for a player like Williams as he is guaranteed playing time but is still playing at the same level, he would be had he stayed at United. However, Norwich have gotten off to a very rocky start, having lost all of their six opening games in the season and drawing their seventh, sitting rock bottom of the League with one point. 

Williams was starting every game in the league, getting full 90 minutes under his belt, that is, before the Burnley game. Williams was benched for the Burnley game and did not make an appearance off the bench. Once more, this is the only game of the season in which Norwich have kept a clean sheet, and it came without Williams in their defence. Hopefully, after the international break, Williams will be back in the starting eleven, gaining valuable experience at the highest level. 

So far, despite Norwich’s poor form, Williams has been playing many minutes for a Premier League club, which is a success. 8/10. 

Axel Tuanzebe – Aston Villa

Tuanzebe is a player who has been on the radar of United fans for many years. In the past the centre back has had very successful loans, even gaining promotion to the Premier League while on loan at Aston Villa in the 2018/19 season. After this loan spell Tuanzebe was kept in the United squad with hopes the Academy graduate could start to break into the first team. 

However, his 2019/20 campaign was plagued with injuries with the centre back picking up a hip injury, a thigh injury and an ankle injury all at various points of the season. This limited his playing time significantly, only managing 701 first team minutes that season. 

The following season was slightly better for the defender who made 19 appearances for United across all competitions and racked up 918 minutes, however, this was not nearly enough playing time for the defender to develop sufficiently, and with the signing of elite centre back Raphael Varane in the 2021 summer transfer window, club and player decided another season on loan would be to the benefit of all parties. 

So far, the loan has been decent for Tuanzebe, with the defender having already played three full games in the League, something that would not have happened at United this season and has been a key part of the Villa defence. 

It must also be noted that Aston Villa are a team with strong players in their defence such as Tyrone Mings, meaning Tuanzebe does not walk into their starting elven every week, as can be seen by the fact he was benched in the last game before the international break against Tottenham Hotspur. This competition for places is good for the defender as it ingrains a work ethic and desire to break into the starting eleven every week, something that will benefit him on his return to United. 

Starting for strong Premier League clubs is a very good sign. 8/10. 

Connor Stanley – Atlanta United 2

The 19-year-old winger surprised many by choosing a loan deal to MLS outfit, Atlanta United’s second team, Atlanta United 2, to develop his skills. The winger seemed overjoyed about the loan stating ‘I am so happy and excited about the opportunity ahead of me’, as was reported by Manchester United. The winger certainly seems to be enjoying life in the USL Championship, having made 25 appearances, scoring one goal and getting three assists.

However, there are question marks over this loan. Most notably, whether experience in the second tier of the MLS is experience that will benefit the player on his return the England. Fans must wonder if a loan to a lower League English club, or European Club, would have been much more beneficial. 

The playing time is good, but the league leaves a lot to be desired. 5/10.

Nathan Bishop – Mansfield Town

United’s Academy goalkeeper Bishop is on loan at League Two outfit Mansfield, and has started every game he has been available for, playing the full 90 minutes every time. He has only managed one clean sheet, however, in a League such as League Two, clean sheets are always hard to come by. The fact he is starting every game is a very good sign and is invaluable for a young keeper. It may be a baptism of fire but playing in tough leagues is often crucial for the development of a keeper. 

Manchester United fans should be pleased that Bishop is gaining crucial experience. 7/10. 

Dylan Levitt – Dundee United

After two disappointing loan spells last season for Levitt, To Charlton Athletic and Croatian club NK Istra, Manchester United fans were hopeful that a full campaign in the Scottish Premiere League would restart the development of the midfielder, who has always shown great promise in the Academy. 

So far, this loan has gotten off to a better start than the previous one at Charlton Athletic, with Levitt making an appearance in every league game he has been available for. He has made seven appearances across all competitions, racking up 592 minutes already. He is being played primarily as a central defensive midfielder, which means he has made no attacking contributions so far, however, this is not the main focus for a player in this position. 

So far in the league Dundee have been a mixed back, winning three, drawing two and losing one of their games so far, this is valuable for Levitt as he can not only develop his skills in a tough league but also understand the highs and lows of the game. 

United fans should be happy that this loan deal looks to be working out much better than the ones previously for Levitt, let’s hope it stays that way. 7/10. 

James Garner – Nottingham Forest

James Garner was a loan success story last season, after switching from Watford to Nottingham Forest in January of last year, Garner became a vital player for the Championship club. He played a huge 1,700 minutes for the club across all competitions, making 20 appearances as scoring four goals from a defensive midfielder position. The Forest fans loved Garner and reacted extremely positive when a second loan deal for the 2021/22 season was announced, as was reported by The Nottingham Post, with some fans stating the club ‘really need him’.  

Garner himself was pleased by the opportunity to go on loan a second time to the club stating‘I’m ready to go and showcase my ability to everyone’. However, there has been cause for concern after manager Chris Houghton was sacked by the club after taking just one point from the clubs first seven games of the season, as reported by Sky Sports

This does not seem to have affected Garner who has started every game in the Championship, besides the most recent game against Birmingham City in which he came on as a substitute. He has made no attacking returns yet, but for a defensive midfielder that is not cause for concern. 

United fans will hope that Garners most recent substitute appearance does not become a regular thing for the midfielder, but having started all other games for Forest, there is no concern just yet. 7/10. 

Ethan Laird – Swansea City

Last season Laird shone on loan at MK Dons in League One, making 24 appearances and getting four assists from right back. This season United wanted the academy payer to have a step up in difficulty, this time loaning him to Championship club Swansea. 

The right back has hit the ground running once again, making 10 appearances in all competitions so far and getting two assists during that time. He has been in the starting XI seven times out of nine in the League and has made substitute appearances both times that he has been benched. The team have kept five clean sheets so far in the League which is extremely impressive and Laird has been a key part of the defensive unit that has achieved this. 

It seems to be so far so good for the defender, with the step up to the Championship having seemingly not affected the 20-year-old at all. 8/10. 

Tahith Chong – Birmingham City

There can be no doubt about it, so far this season, Tahith Chong is United’s biggest loan success story. After two rocky loan spells last season to Werder Bremen and Club Brugge respectively, Chong has worked hard and earnt a loan to Championship club Birmingham and has hit the best form of his career since playing in the Academy. 

He has started every single league game that he has been available for, making 10 appearances across all competitions and getting two assists during this time. However, stats alone cannot paint the whole picture of just how well Chong has settled into life at Birmingham. ESPN recently reported that United legend Wayne Rooney has commented on Chong’s performances at Birmingham stating Chong is a ’very talented player who can really hurt you’,the report also noted that Solskjaer had been in touch with Chong over his fantastic performances in the Championship, letting the youngster know that he is watching. 

It is seemingly a loan deal match made in heaven for Chong who has completely hit his stride. 10/10. 

Ethan Galbraith – Doncaster Rovers

Galbraith is another Academy player who has been on the radar of United fans for quite some time, so when it was announced at the start of the season that Galbraith would be playing his football on loan at Doncaster Rovers in League One, fans were intrigued to see how the player got on in the competitive league. 

It is fair to say that the 20 year old has settled in to life in League One very well, he has started every game in the league that he has been available for, playing the full 90 minutes in all games bar one in the league. 

This shows a high level in trust from the manager to play a young player in the heart of the midfield in a league as tough as League One, this insinuates that Galbraith is more than holding his own. He has also managed one assistduring this time, which from midfield, is impressive. 

United fans will be hoping the young midfielder will go from strength to strength and keep up his strong form. 9/10. 

Di’Shon Bernard – Hull City

20-year-old Bernard had a disappointing spell on loan at Salford City last season where he barely played. This season the player had made a huge step up to the Championship, which is seeming to pay off. Out of the 11 league games the young defender has been available for, he has started six, playing the full 90 minutes each time.

Loan deals are notoriously tough for young defenders as managers are often hesitant to trust inexperienced players in defence, especially in leagues such as the Championship in which every point is hard fought for. 

The trust shown in Bernard insinuates that he has impressed his manager and his teammates and has been given the opportunity off the back of this. So far Bernard has helped keep two clean sheets for Hull, a number he will be wanting to build upon before his loan ends.

United fans should be certainly keeping an eye on Bernard as one for the future. 7/10. 

Overall, it looks positive for United’s loanees this season, with many gaining valuable playing time in respectable leagues. It should be noted that there are three other United youngsters out on loan who have not played enough to be considered here. Will Fish at Stockport County, D’Mani Mellor at Salford City and Reece Devine at St Johnstone. Hopefully these youngsters can break into their loan clubs and make an impression soon. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Squad Depth: The Future of Manchester United’s Centre-Back Options

Manchester United have always relied on having strong squad depth to compete at the highest level in all competitions, whether that be the famous 2008/09 squad that featured the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Luis Nani, or squads from the past that featured legends such as Jaap Stam, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister and Phil and Gary Neville. However, in the past seven years or so United have arguably had little quality squad depth, and this is something that is important in every position on the field if trophies are the target.

Defensively, United have lacked two top class centre-backs since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s formidable partnership, but the signing of Raphael Varane alongside existing club captain Harry Maguire looks to have changed this.

Varane arrives at United boasting an impressive trophy haul from his time with Real Madrid, which includesfour Champions League trophies and three La Liga titles. Add this to his impressive international career, which includes a World Cup and being the youngest ever French captain, it’s clear Varane brings a winning mentality to United that is so desperately needed. United are without a league title since 2013 and haven’t lifted the coveted Champions League trophy since that fantastic night in Moscow in 2008, Varane could be the addition that finally ends the eight-year league drought.

Highly respected and revered at Los Blancos, Varane boasts an impressive defensive and disciplinary record. In his time with Real Madrid, the defender has only picked up 25 yellow cards, and impressively, two red cards. Bearing in mind that’s across 360 matches played for Madrid, his overall record is exemplary. This in itself is testament to the Frenchman’s maturity and level-headed approach to the game, something that is very evident from the interviews he’s given throughout his career, once stating to Real Madrid TV “I always want to play clean”. All of these factors combined paints a picture of a mature top-class player, a quiet leader, and more importantly- a winner.

It’s clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to quickly integrate a player of Varane’s quality into the starting XI, and naturally he will be paired with club captain Harry Maguire. The captain status and Maguire’s impressive run of form throughout last season practically makes him untouchable within the line-up. This new pairing of Maguire and Varane subsequently means that trusted starter Victor Lindelof will lose his place, and he may have a case for being frustrated.

Throughout his four-year tenure at United, Lindelof has never fully convinced the Old Trafford faithful of his ability to be a first-choice centre-back option. However, as of late Lindelöf looks to have had an upturn in form, perhaps personified by his excellent pin point ball to Bruno Fernandes in the opening game against Leeds, which led to Fernandes’s hat-trick.

Nicknamed the ‘The Iceman’, Lindelof has been mostly reliable amongst United’s back four, which is in dire contrast to fellow defender Eric Bailly. If Lindelöf is ‘the iceman’, Bailly is a firecracker- erratic, rash but possessing an undeniable level of quality. Bailly is a tenacious defender, stronger and much quicker than Lindelöf, at the surface level he seems to be the perfect partner for Maguire.

However, dig a little deeper and you see the awful injury record that Bailly has, missing several stretches of games at a time. A lack of consistency means Bailly cannot be considered as a starter, albeit seemingly possessing a high level of talent. A mix of Lindelöf’s reliability and coolness with Bailly’s speed and strength is what United need, and it seems Varane may be just that.

While Varane is nailed on to be a starter, improving United’s starting back four, his potential impact on Lindelof and Bailly could be one of the greatest effects. Solskjaer will hope the arrival of Varane may spur on the other defenders within the United contingent to up their game, which would benefit the quality in squad depth that the team possesses. United will be hoping that they may be able to replicate ‘the Alex Telles’ effect, a signing which almost certainly contributed to Luke Shaw’s incredible campaign last season. Genuine quality breeds even more quality, as the bar is raised so is the level required to stay in contention, and the presence of having a World Cup winner will hopefully bolster the performances of Lindelof and Bailly when selected.

This is vital if United are looking to win on all fronts, squad rotation will be key to avoiding injuries and keeping players fresh. In the past when United have shuffled around defensively, whether that be in cup games or as a matter of necessity, the backline has always seemed somewhat frail or unsure of itself. Solskjaer will hope that this will no longer be the case, with both Lindelof and Bailly having the extra motivation of needing to prove their quality if they want to have a chance of getting back into the starting line-up. 

Conversely, one potential issue that could arise is if either Lindelof or Bailly become disgruntled with being delegated to the bench. While it’s unlikely Lindelöf will grow frustrated, given all indications seem to point to a happy player, Bailly may look to leave the club if he is unable to get many opportunities this season. Bailly penned a new deal back in April this year, keeping him at the club until June 2024, however the international may not be all that happy if he’s denied game time. Signing the contract Bailly made it clear he had intentions of an injury free stint, claiming that he “loved the club”.

The 27-year-old also said he viewed the new contract as “a fresh challenge”, perhaps alluding to his troublesome injury history and how he is trying to move on from that. While Bailly has clear affections for the club, he may just find the signing of Varane less than four months after his contract renewal as a bit of a kick in the teeth. At 27, Bailly needs to be playing regular football if he is to stay at the top of his game, unfortunately United may not be the best place for that.

Away from more experienced players, United still have both Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi within their ranks to consider. Both English centre-backs are still relatively young, Tuanzebe being 23 and Mengi 19, and the pair are touted as having a very high ceiling of talent. While Tuanzebe will be unavailable for selection this year, having just secured a third loan move to Aston Villa, it’s clear that United see a future at the club for Tuanzebe having also just signed a contract extension. While not starting in many games last season, Tuanzebe really impressed in the away win against Paris Saint-Germain, managing to deal with Kylian Mbappe’s blistering pace effectively.

In contrast, Mengi has spent most of his career so far impressing for the under 23’s, although did move to Derby County on loan in the second half of last season. The Manchester born academy graduate had put in a string of good performances before unfortunately having his loan move cut short due to a hamstring injury. Mengi’s future for this season is still undecided as of the time of writing this article, however it’s highly likely that the impressive youngster will go back out on loan to the Championship for this season.

A loan move playing regular Championship football will surely prove more beneficial than simply playing in the under 23’s for Mengi, likely exposing him to adversity and the realities of playing week in week out in front of a large crowd. United will hope both players will gain more valuable experience and playing time this season, so when the pair do return to United, they will provide fresh competition.Overall, the future looks bright for United defensively, and for the centre-back position, in particular.

The squad has gained a born winner with valuable experience in this window, and the hope is this will ignite a competitive spirit amongst the defensive ranks. The addition of more valuable loan experience for the likes of Tuanzebe also bodes well for the future, and with the quality of the current overall United team, United could finally be setup with a high quality, experienced backline for years to come.

Written by Sam Wilson

Axel Tuanzebe wanted by Turkish side Besiktas but defender wants to fight for his place at Manchester United – reports

Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe is wanted on a season long loan spell by Turkish side Besiktas ahead of the summer transfer window opening. However, it is stated that the player would rather remain at United, fighting for his place at the club next season after spells on loan with Aston Villa inn recent seasons.

The 22-year-old has been used sparingly by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, making a total of ten appearances for the club. However, the player has suffered two serious injuries this season, having a hip problem which saw him missing seven matches and a hamstring problem, missing 17 matches. If he was fit, he would have played more.

Turkish journalist Ertan Suzgun has suggested that Besiktas have identified the United academy graduate as a player that could strengthen the clubs defence next season, which is all well and good as he is a player that could do the same for United, if the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo are sold by the club this summer.

Tuanzebe previously has loan spells away from United with Aston Villa, who are the time were in the Championship. He started with a six-month spell away from the club during the 2017/18 season, spending the 2018/19 season at the club, helping Villa win the play-off final and promotion to the Premier League, where they are relegation candidates this season.

This season, United have most of the time used Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in the centre of the defence, but this has not been down to anything else other than a lack of players to choose from in rotation. Eric Bailly has suffered injury problems, Phil Jones is Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo has been at Estudianies since January.

If both Bailly and Tuanzebe had been fit, they would have had more minutes on the pitch at the club, meaning United would not have had to be so reliant on the likes of Lindelof and Maguire. If United sell Rojo, Smalling and/or Jones this summer, it could create more playing time for Bailly and Tuanzebe, which would be a good thing for both players.

Tuanzebe might, at some point in the future, if things are still the same at United, be forced to look elsewhere to be a regular starter in the team by at 22, he must know that it is not time to call an end to his United career. Showing patience as he will see the dilemma that manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will face, especially after continuing to clear the deadwood.

Rojo, Smalling and Jones are three players who have been at the club for some time, the Argentinian since 2014, Smalling since 2010 and Jones since 2011 – all three players have seemingly failed to be the clubs main starters in the past five years or so, despite the experience they all have as all three were full internationals.

Tuanzebe will be wise to look ahead into the future at what is likely to happen at the club. Rumours suggest United are seeing to sign a new defender, which cannot happen until the summer, so there is some likelihood that one, two or three players could be sold. Tuanzebe, if fit will have the remainder of the season to play himself into the managers plans for the future, which he is capable of doing.

Looking at Manchester United’s defensive depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United did well during the summer transfer window, adding Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who signed from Crystal Palace and Harry Maguire, who arrived from Leicester City. It was a summer that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to pay attention to the defence, which allowed more than 50 goals to be conceded in the Premier League along last season.

Solskjaer spent £125 million; £80 million for Maguire and an initial £45 million for Wan-Bissaka giving some much-needed defensive ability ahead of the 2019/20 season in which United would be tasked with chasing the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, to regain a place in the top four of the league.

United finished sixth last season, five points adrift of a place in the top four, which could have been much different if United managed to beat both Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City at the end of the season. However, hindsight is only fantastic when you look back as if you change two factors, other factors may have had to change also.

Goalkeeper depth; Solskjaer does not need to worry in this area.

Solskjaer has three great first-team options in goal this season; David De Gea, Sergio Romero and Lee Grant. That will be the order of importance in the squad. The club also had the likes of Dean Henderson, Joel Pereira and Kieran O’Hara, who have all been loaned out to Sheffield United, Hearts of Midlothian and Burton Albion respectively.

De Gea will be the go-to guy to start the majority of matches, namely in the Premier League. As for the Carabao Cup, the UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup, it could well be Romero who features, as he did in the cup competitions last season, other than the UEFA Champions League, of course. Grant could be a shoo-in for matches in these competitions too.

It was hoped that Henderson could have been afforded time in the Premier League this season but with De Gea’s contract being extended by the extra year agreed to in 2015, it was unlikely that he would be the first option in the goalkeeping ranks, however, he will get that Premier League experience he craved for, which might do him some good.

Fullback depth; Solskjaer’s options are much improved this season.

Last season, United’s defence left a lot to be desired. First of all, in the fullback position, Jose Mourinho, who started the season as manager, then Solskjaer had Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, and Diogo Dalot to choose from in both the left-back and right-back positions. Not a lot of pace, or youth for that matter.

Valencia was on the sidelines for much of the season, leaving the other four to contend for places in the squad. Young was often criticised, as way Shaw. Dalot was too inexperienced, but gave his all and Darmian seldom played. This season though, after the departure of Valencia, Wan-Bissaka arrived and has improved the position greatly.

Both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw will face competition from Young and Dalot, who can both play on the left or the right. Darmian may still play a part despite his future up in the air, although his current contract will expire at the end of the season. The fullback role is looking good for the current season with youth coming through the ranks to add more competition.

Central defensive depth; the strongest defence in six years?

Solskjaer has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe in his ranks for the current season. There was the rumour of Rojo likely to depart before the closure of the European transfer window at the start of September, but it is just rumour right now. With seven players, there is some depth in this area.

Bailly is injured until the Christmas period, meaning Solskjaer has six players contesting two positions in the squad. Lindelof and Maguire secured the central defensive area in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford last weekend and will be expected to resume their positions against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

In case of injury to either Lindelof or Maguire, or the need for rotation, Tuanzebe will be a great option for Solskjaer as he did well during pre-season and learned some valuable things on loan with Aston Villa last season. The likes of Jones and Smalling could also be considered. Rojo not so much, based on pre-season appearances.

The depth of this squad is pretty good, despite the moaning for central midfield signings during the summer transfer window. Solskjaer will have had targets and if it was not possible to sign them, panic buying was just going to create more problems in the future with many players on high wages and unable to be moved on; Alexis Sanchez for instance.

United have many options in different areas; a minimum of three players, counting those already in the first team this season, which are players who have already made their debuts for the club in the recent years. In some positions, United has four sometimes five options, based on my opinion on where they would be able to play in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

This is the formation which Solskjaer has used more often than not, and a formation which will get the best out of the attacking players, using their hunger, determination and more importantly, their pace to launch attacking and counter-attacking plays during matches. Solskjaer’s identity seems to be young, courage and success.

Above, you can see the 4-2-3-1 formation, keeping an eye on the defence where there is a minimum of three players for each position, listed in order of importance to the squad. At fullback, both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw seem to be safe, although the emergence of Dalot could change that, more for Shaw, if he does not improve as he should have.

In the centre of defence, Lindelof and Maguire are certain to start more matches together, fitness and injury aside, but in that instance, there is some depth which could help get United through a difficult time. Tuanzebe, at least for me, is trusted more than the likes of Jones and Smalling; Bailly is at the bottom because of injury at the present time.

If the Ivorian improves his game, he could add more competition for either centre-back, which in turn will inspire players to perform to the best of their ability in order to keep their place. Competition is the best thing to bring the best out of players. This defence could achieve a lot; first of all to ensure they concede fewer than 54 goals this season.

copyright: JW