Premier League 2022-23 preview No 14: Manchester United

Aug 3, 2022

Guardian writers’ predicted position 6th (NB: this is not necessarily Jamie Jackson’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position 6th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker) 25-1


In days of yore – well, the start of last season when Manchester United had finished second the previous term and were bolstered by the signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphaël Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo – billing a fourth-place finish as acceptable would have been, erm, unacceptable. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær winning a 21st crown was the ambition. Now, after the poorest of campaigns which ended with the team in sixth, 35 points behind Manchester City and a third manager in less than a year in place in Erik ten Hag, should the Dutchman’s team place fourth this would be a minor miracle.

Why it might happen: the 52-year-old has signed Tyrell Malacia, a 22-year-old dynamic left-back, Christian Eriksen on a free (the silky playmaker is possibly the best value of the window) as well as Lisandro Martínez, a feisty defender, from Ajax. If – a big one – Frenkie de Jong follows from Barcelona Ten Hag will have a complete quartet of his targets: fair reason for optimism.

Why it might not: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal (who all finished above United) have strengthened their ranks. Also, Ten Hag has three Eredivisie titles and a Champions League semi-final with Ajax on the CV but is unknown in the Premier League.

He is also hampered by the season’s early start due to the winter World Cup, meaning less time – five weeks – to implement his fast-pressing, constant pass-and-move style. To hear Ten Hag instruct a group during training at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium earlier this month that football “is triangles, always the same principles” was a touch alarming: elite footballers should already be versed in this fundamental.

The manager

All of Ten Hag’s predecessors since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club possessed flaws that cost them their job. David Moyes was callow, Louis van Gaal stubborn, José Mourinho volatile and Solskjaer tactically limited. The hope is the 52-year-old Dutchman has diametric qualities and will be a quick learner when it comes to English football. His ruthlessness with players and relentless demand for excellence was evident during the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia and augurs well. An unknown factor is how Ten Hag can improve a squad which – Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and David de Gea apart – had a collective nightmare last season: this may be the X-factor that elevates his tenure.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag (centre) leads his team’s training session for the pre-season tour match against Liverpool in Bangkok.

Transfer coup

Considering the scale of the rebuild facing Ten Hag to be able to recruit a player of Christian Eriksen’s calibre for no fee could be the actual definition of “transfer coup”. This is a playmaker with a claim to be on the same plane of gamechanging ability as Bruno Fernandes, who is United’s most consistent performer (alongside Ronaldo). So the new manager has certainly enhanced the squad’s quality and the hope will be that Eriksen can ease the load on Fernandes while offering a differing dimension.

World Cup impact

Nearly all the squad will be in Doha. Close to the whole defence – De Gea, Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Varane, Martínez, Luke Shaw, Malacia, Alex Telles (if he is not sold) – though Victor Lindelöf’s Sweden and Eric Bailly’s Ivory Coast failed to qualify. In midfield only Scott McTominay’s Scotland missed out. And from the attack, Fernandes, Donny van de Beek, Ronaldo, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho could all be called up but Anthony Elanga is Swedish so will have a breather.

Alternative attractions during World Cup

Maybe take in some of the hipper-than-hip bars in the city. Nam in Ancoats, for example, boasts a high-end sound system and DJs with monikers like Ruf Dug (one of Stockport’s finest) plus a Vietnamese menu. Or find your bucolic self, walking the miles of Manchester canal and the area’s copious rivers – Mersey, Tame, Irwell, Irk, Medlock, Boggart Hole Brook, Chorlton Brook, Tib, Moston Brook.

Leading the shirt sales

Ronaldo, of course, though his thus-far summer-long will-he-stay, will-he-go status has surely dented maximum return on units sold as disgruntled fans are turned off by it. The Glazers want him to remain – Ronaldo is a global commercial phenomenon: why would they not? – and though Ten Hag is adamant he is not for sale (and may even stay beyond next season) the manager cannot be blamed if secretly praying for an exit. Ronaldo’s 37-year-old legs can no longer execute a performance of 90 minutes running. Beyond Ronaldo, Eriksen can be expected to accumulate serious sales numbers.

Social climber

Could Lisandro Martínez’s tough-tacking, I’ll-die-for-the-shirt persona make him a shoo-in to become an Instagram, TikTok, and other social media happening? Beyond the Argentinian, Eriksen’s remarkable comeback from near-death cardiac arrest during Euro 2020 will attract deserved love, praise and heightened interest as, too, will his velvety contribution. And though Ronaldo may not be currently universally popular he boasts a cool 468 million Insta followers: expect this quite ridiculous total to keep rising.

If United were a Netflix doc …

This would surely feature an extended prologue section on Ten Hag running his charges into the ground during pre-season intercut with the along-the-channels passing sequences that are near identical to those Pep Guardiola utilises, and a clip of him during the tour win over Crystal Palace asking the youngster Charlie Savage ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ to show precisely how the new manager operates. Then, this being United, the country’s biggest sporting soap opera, a simple month-by-month documentation of where it all went right – or wrong.

<< ‘I had to wait’: Chelsea’s Koulibaly on realising his Premier League dream

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