Ahead of the first away trip of the season, TEB had a chat with the guys at THE UNITED DEVILS to find out their thoughts on last season, hopes for the new season, the game and much more.
Q. Now that the dust has settled on a lengthy 2019-20 campaign, how are you feeling ahead of the new season kicking off?
I would say I am confident but at the same time there are many issues at the time of writing that still concern me and most of it revolves around the lack of signings. Van De Beek is a great addition but not the answer. The first team squad is great, and we have a lot of talent and players that want to play for the club. We just need that bit more off the bench and in our squad depth overall and I think I will be far more confident of our chances to compete for a title.
Q. Looking back, how did United fare last season and were you happy with it in general?
Overall, yes. I think there were many moments that were horrible and the injuries United suffered damaged their season quite a bit but there were some fantastic moments and overall a third-place finish was as good as this United side could get. Especially after the defeat to Burnley where United were so far behind the third and fourth place sides. United rallied in 2020 with Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial receiving much-deserved praise and so I am happy overall for the season, but things will need to be much better for the upcoming season.
Q. How have United made the best of the shortened close season and how much of an effect do you think it will have on the season ahead?
If I’m not mistaken, United had the highest number of points post-lockdown and are currently 14 games unbeaten in the league. The first team was so strong that we blew away most teams but struggled at the end as we didn’t (or couldn’t) rotate a lot and it fatigued our side.
I would have hoped this demonstrated that while we have a strong first team, Solskjaer doesn’t trust his bench to make an impact at that time and needs more players if we are to compete on more than one front as it showed when we were knocked out at the semi-final stages of three competitions. I hope the board sort these deals out so United can improve.
Q. Have United been very active in the transfer window? Are there areas that still need attention before it closes?
I don’t think they have ever been “active” in the transfer window since Sir Alex left, it has always been a sluggish process when it comes to Ed Woodward’s handling of the footballing side. Van De Beek is a quality signing and will be excellent off the bench or starting for United and I can’t wait to see him play. Not to mention the transfer fee is a bargain for his quality.
Absolutely! We do need another right winger and I think United are going to try and get the Sancho deal wrapped up as soon as possible, for the price Dortmund stated two months ago, which only demonstrates how much of a joke United are in the market. A centre back would be the next priority as I think Solskjaer has to be ruthless with Lindelof who was error-prone at the end of the season and hasn’t changed on international duty either. I would like United to try for Paul Torres or Samuel Umtiti who look like they could leave Villareal and Barcelona respectively and I would like either of these left footed defenders at Old Trafford. Reguilon has also been linked and would be great if United could acquire him but again he should not be the priority, Sancho should be.
Q. What can we expect from United this season?
I always expect United to compete on all fronts and they did last season in the cups, but this season has to be a much bigger improvement as the title has to be United’s priority. I think the weaknesses of the top two clubs last season are still exposed as Klopp hasn’t improved his squad and while Pep has improved his side, it may not be enough. They have to push for the title, and I don’t doubt that, if Solskjaer is backed this window, they can do so and maybe even win it.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the United first eleven?
I think there are a few players in the youth teams that could have an impact at one time or another during the season. A couple have already made their debuts like Teden Mengi and Ethan Laird and I think they are the most likely to feature at some point. Dylan Levitt is another who is becoming a regular for Wales and so I could see him getting more time and perhaps a start in the domestic cups.
There is a lot of talk about Hannibal Mejbri and Anthony Elanga who look like great talents but I think it will be at least another year before they are given a big chance and also Marc Jurado who has just joined but again, another year in the academy I think. I don’t see any of these players having the impact that Greenwood has had, but I do think, at this stage, they could break into the first team and compete for places if the squad gets an injury.
Q. Let’s have some predictions from you for the season.
Premier League Champions – My heart says Manchester United but, on the condition that Solskjaer gets the players in he wants. I don’t rate Liverpool’s chances this season and I still think Chelsea have weaknesses. At the current time, I think the battle will be in Manchester and City may just win it.
Champions League spots – This one is easier. I think it will be the same as last season with United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea getting the top four places as I don’t see anyone breaking past these teams. I would say Liverpool in third and Chelsea in fourth simply because Liverpool still have an exceptional first XI. 1st Manchester City, 2nd Manchester United, 3rd Liverpool, 4th Chelsea
Relegated – A tough choice but it could be West Ham this season as they haven’t invested and have lost a big player in Diangana. They bid on Tarkowski but if Burnley accept just £20m for him they would be mad. I can see them going down. Fulham don’t strike me as a team that will survive this season and credit to Scott Parker to do as well as he has did with this side, but I don’t see them lasting too long. I think it will be interesting to see whether West Brom and Leeds can stay up as they have shown promise at times but the transition to the Premier League is always tough. Brighton could go down, but I think if they can keep White and Dunk fit, they have good defensive pairing, a solid and capable midfield, and young and exciting attackers. My prediction would be 20th: Fulham, 19th: West Brom, 18th: West Ham
Surprise package – I think Everton could cause shocks with the signings they have got but not so much for the top four and more for the Europa League battle between Arsenal, Spurs, Wolves and Leicester. Newcastle have done well in the market so far and I would be interested to see what they can do.
FA Cup – Again, Manchester United should be competing on all fronts and I can see either them or City winning it this time as I expect Arsenal and Spurs to go for the Europa League. Chelsea may want revenge for last season, and I can see them as three of the semi-finalists again and perhaps a surprise team. Liverpool will probably sit it out as their squad doesn’t permit them to fight on more than two fronts.
League Cup – Similar to the FA Cup as City love the competition and so does Jose. I can see Spurs getting to the semi-finals along with United, Chelsea and City and again another trophy in Manchester.
Q. What are your thoughts on the return of fans to games this season?
I think there’s a lot of work being done to make this safe and if I’m not mistaken, Brighton hosted Chelsea in front of fans and it was a success. I think they have put a lot of time and effort into making sure this is as safe as possible, the same as was with the post-lockdown resumption. We will have to see if it is a success all-season long but for now it seems they have done the work to make it safe for fans and players.
Q. What do you make of Palace ahead of the new season?
I’m not sure really. I think Eze is a fantastic bit of business and is a good player for now and the future. I still think they are missing goals, but I hope for Palace’s sake that Batshuayi and Ayew provide the crucial goals Palace have lacked because I don’t think Benteke will deliver. I think on paper, Palace have a chance to compete for the top half of the table, but it truly depends on Zaha. If/when he leaves, how do you replace a player of that calibre? I think they are solid defensively and certainly the starting back four. I don’t think Palace will be involved in a relegation battle and they will be a difficult side to beat but will not light the league on fire.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
I will be wary of Eze who has a lot to prove and especially at Old Trafford of all places but Wilfred Zaha is of course, the one I will be the most threatening as his intelligent runs and finishing cause problems every time he plays. I think Palace will have to man-mark every attacker for United because all of them can score a goal and cause serious problems but the biggest threat of them all is Bruno Fernandes as he pulls the strings in the attack.
Q. …and finally, your all-important prediction?
United want revenge for last season’s shock result and I do see them being very dominant in possession and Palace playing on the counter. I expect a win, but I don’t think it will be an easy one even with all of United’s quality. 2-0 to United with Martial and Fernandes to score