Manchester United start the season with title expectations resting on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He has been given the two players he most needed, and most wanted, when the transfer window opened.
Paul Pogba looks likely to stay for at least one more season, and there might even be a late purchase to move on any fringe players or first-teamers who might now find themselves on the bench after a couple of years of mediocrity.
Saul Niguez, Ruben Neves and a few other potential Pogba replacements remain on the back pages and the online transfer nerd patrol, so this window is not necessarily over for United or Solskjaer.
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But realistically the most important thing now for the club is to work on the surfeit of tat: Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones and Daniel James are not needed. Beyond that, Anthony Martial, Fred, Alex Telles could all be binned to finance a late move for Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier.

Transfers in

  • Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund): The transfer has been a year in the making after United appeared to get cold feet as the coronavirus hit finances hard over the summer of 2020. It might have been frustrating for fans, but United have secured a second-place finish and got their man at a much reduced price 12 months later. His performances at Borussia Dortmund and England of late have hinted there is something potentially truly special there, but is Solskjaer the man capable of developing his talent?
  • Raphael Varane (Real Madrid): Let’s assume that the transfer does not collapse at the last minute. A medical and signature is all that is required for the Real Madrid man to make his move to United. A cut-price fee of around £40 million gives them an experienced and superior partner for Harry Magure. In truth it gives them an experienced and superior player to Harry Maguire. If Varane rediscovers his very best form then he will give United their first decent defensive foundation since Ferdinand-Vidic.

Transfers out

  • Sergio Romero (contract expired): One of the Premier League’s best understudies saw that with Dean Henderson and David de Gea still to fight it out amongst them to become undisputed Old Trafford number one, he needed to move elsewhere. Everton, MLS and almost any club in Europe could make use of the experienced Argentine.
  • Joel Pereira (contract expired): Never close to the required quality.
  • Facundo Pellistri (loan to Alaves): The Uruguayan returns to Spanish club Alaves to continue his education in European football while not having quite such a culture shock of Manchester. Another year in Spain should allow him to get regular first team action away from the pressure of Old Trafford.
  • Tahith Chong (loan to Birmingham): It’s not happening for him, is it?
  • Axel Tuanzebe (loan to Aston Villa): The 23-year-old has never quite got a run of games for United and when he has had the chance on the pitch, he has also not been decisively awful. To keep him around in the background would probably suit Solskjaer, given his wage requirements must be less than Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones. A loan to Villa should be his last chance to demonstrate he can be the first in line to replace Varane or Maguire when needed, but most probably he is playing for a transfer away in the next summer window.

Key man - Paul Pogba

Sancho is too young to be relied upon. Edinson Cavani is too old to carry the frontline for the season. Bruno Fernandes has decisive interventions but is often quiet for much or all of a game. Pogba, of course, has never been a really consistent match-winner for United but his talent is irrefutable. He is coming to the end of his contract at United and the question is whether realpolitik will demand he earns a new deal at Old Trafford while other clubs look elsewhere for more convincing candidates. With a hugely improved first eleven, there are no more excuses left.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær after the Carabao Cup Quarter Final match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 23, 2020 in Liverpool, England.

Image credit: Getty Images

Young star - Mason Greenwood

The teenager had a rocky time of it last season as he adjusted to the quotidian demands of professional football, and that was compounded by the disappointment of dropping out of the Euro 2020 squad for England. Nevertheless, with Sancho, Rashford and Greenwood a possible long-term front three for the club, this is his chance to show how he can be the most clinical goalscorer of the trio.

Breakout candidate - Luke Shaw

Shaw retains his bulky physique and he suffered yet another injury while on international duty when he picked up a broken rib. That should hamper his need for constant activity in order to stay in his relatively trim current shape. However, should he manage to keep fit over the course of the season then he could offer pace and an attacking threat alongside Rashford, with Trippier and Sancho stretching the other flank.

Luke Shaw at Euro 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Manager situation - Solskjaer has to kick on

Solskjaer is now under pressure. Not because of a poor showing last year, but instead due to a satisfactory one. Unusually for United, they appear to have backed their manager in an attempt to keep the momentum going. The problem here is that for all Solskjaer’s jaunty attitude and easygoing outward nature, he is yet to create a team that is more than the sum of its parts. If he is to challenge for trophies this season, that is his toughest task.

Prediction - United to fall behind

Chelsea have got Romelu Lukaku and will follow that up with Jules Kounde. Under Thomas Tuchel, the Champions League winners should be able to leapfrog United. City remain favourites for the league, and Liverpool will be back to their best if Jurgen Klopp can get his team to start the season like they ended it. For all the quality possessed by Varane and Sancho, Solskjaer is still a limiting factor. Fourth.
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