Projected starting XI
David De Gea; Matteo Darmian, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelöf, Antonio Valencia; Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba; Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan
How do you feel about your club's summer transfer business?
Reasonably satisfied. Jose Mourinho prioritized four signings, and the club got two done in time for preseason, and another done a week before the start of the season. Not bad.
Two of the most glaring failures of last season’s team was an inability to score against weaker opposition, and a tendency for the attack to become static and predictable. Romelu Lukaku may lack the technical excellence of Zlatan Ibrahimović, but he has never been accused of failing to put minnows to the sword. On top of that, he is infinitely more mobile than the Swede, and in theory should allow the team to play in a faster and more expansive style.
It remains to be seen whether or not Victor Lindelöf is ready for the step up to this level, but Marcos Rojo has a long term injury and Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been consistently unreliable for years now. Nemanja Matić is hardly a signing to get fans giddy, but he adds a missing element to United’s midfield, and he’s a player that the manager knows and trusts.
What's the highest reasonable goal your team has and what needs to go right to get there?
The goal has to be to win the league. Three years without winning a league title equals the longest drought since Sir Alex Ferguson conquered English football, and Mourinho has always enjoyed his greatest success in his second seasons. After the tragicomic years of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, United fans were willing to be patient with Mourinho as he had a significant rebuilding job on his hands. That said, he’s been backed in the transfer market, and has now had a full year to translate his ideas.
At a club of United’s ambitions, the cup wins over the last two seasons were enough to placate supporters, but not enough to truly satisfy them. Barring some extraordinary luck, we lack the quality to make any serious noise in the Champions League, but there’s no reason why the Premier League title wouldn’t be within reach. Like with any eventual champion, we’ll need some luck with injuries to key players, and maybe an unexpected meltdown or two at some of the other challengers (E.g., Conte trying to fight one of his players during a game, Guardiola getting busted for systematic blood do-...nevermind).
But even given the thinness of the squad in some areas, and the size of the gap that will need to be bridged, the expectation is league winners or bust. Finishing in the top four and winning a cup (unless we Mourinho our way to an ugly and improbable Champions League win) would be considered a failure. We’re not Arsenal, for God’s sake.
What are you scared of that might derail your season?
Injuries. Mourinho is not a big fan of rotation when it comes to the spine of his team, and it’s not a coincidence that Paul Pogba picked up an injury after playing every meaningful minute of football for the first several months of last season. That injury layoff exposed just how unimaginative United’s midfield is without the Frenchman, and in that sense, not much has changed ahead of the new campaign. The thought of Marouane Fellaini trying to do an impression of a box-to-box midfielder in a title-challenging team is the stuff fan nightmares are made of. Mourinho will have to learn to trust the fringe members of his squad if United are going to still be in contention at the business end of the season.
Who's a player on your team that neutrals might not know much about, but should become fans of?
Andreas Pereira is a promising United academy product who spent last season on loan at Granada. He’s spent most of his career as a wide attacker, but Mourinho has so far used him in midfield. He’s extremely gifted: great close control, an eye for a pass, he can shoot, he can dribble, and he’s recently added a bit of steel and tenacity to his game as well. He probably will barely see a minute of playing time behind Fellaini in the pecking order, but he’s worth keeping an eye on just in case.
Who will be your team's MVP this season, and why?
In this case, the obvious choice is the correct one. Paul Pogba has the ability to be the best player in the country, and with a year of settling in under his belt, is poised to take a step up in performance. With the addition of Matić, the team’s default shape should now be geared towards getting the best out of Pogba, and for good reason. Ibrahimović’s goals got the headlines and secured many results last year, but it was Pogba that made the team tick.
Main photo: Harry How/Getty Images