Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is currently embarking on his first pre-season campaign as Manchester United manager, looking to improve following a disappointing campaign last time out.
The 46-year-old oversaw an impressive start to his reign having replaced Jose Mourinho in December, however a torrid run of form saw United slump to a sixth-place finish and miss out on Champions League qualification.
Ahead of the new season, here are five major issues facing the Manchester United boss as he bids to restore the Old Trafford side to its former glories…
Paul Pogba’s future
United’s record signing wants out of Old Trafford, and the constant media attention and uncertainty regarding his future could prove a disruptive influence on the club’s pre-season plans.
The French international is reported to have grown disillusioned with life at the club, having been frustrated by United’s inability to compete for major honours.
Real Madrid and Juventus are reported to be interested in signing the 26-year-old, though neither side has yet matched United’s valuation.
Supremely talented, Pogba is one of the Premier League’s finest on his best days, however, those displays have been few and far between. Solskjaer’s squad is currently lacking in midfield, though the Norwegian should consider the sale of Pogba should the right bid come in.
United’s squad is lacking in quality and balance, and receiving a substantial bid for the wantaway star could help fund moves to address key concerns.
A reported price-tag of £150m could help fund moves for the midfielders and centre-back the club desperately need, and whilst Pogba remains talented, his influence has been inconsistent since his big-money move three years ago.
United posted their worst defensive record of the Premier League-era last season, conceding 54 goals. Other than 10th-placed West Ham, it was the highest total in the top half and an area that needs to be addressed.
Following a nightmare start to his career in Manchester, Swedish international Victor Lindelof has grown in confidence and is now established as Solskjaer’s first-choice.
Despite his improvement, Lindelof needs a high-quality partner, with long-serving duo Chris Smalling and Phil Jones continuing to frustrate the club’s fanbase.
Eric Bailly’s initial promise has also stalled, as injuries and loss of form take their toll on the Ivorian.
United have been linked with moves for Leicester defender Harry Maguire and Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, as Solskjaer looks to put an end to his side’s defensive fragility.
Whether United manage to land an elite partner for Lindelof remains to be seen, and could be a major factor in whether the club improve on last season’s dismal defensive record.
Can Marcus Rashford be United’s ‘main main’?
Speculation that the homegrown hero could leave Old Trafford has been put to bed, with the England international signing a new long-term deal at the club worth a reported £250,000-a-week.
It is a significant show of faith in the 21-year-old from Solskjaer, who seems to have placed his trust in Rashford to lead his forward line. Romelu Lukaku’s expected departure will further increase the pressure on Rashford to deliver, and he will now be viewed as United’s leading striker.
Rashford netted his best-ever Premier League total of goals last season, though a tally of 10 league strikes is hardly exceptional and will need to be improved if he is to step-up to elite level.
Concerns remain over his finishing, and Rashford will have to show he can be the clinical 20+ goal-a-season striker United desperately crave next season.
Alexis Sanchez’s future
Signed amid much fanfare from rivals Arsenal in 2018, Chile forward Sanchez has endured a spectacular fall from grace since moving to Old Trafford.
One regarded as one of the Premier League’s leading lights, Sanchez has scored just three league goals in the 18 months since his move to Manchester.
The 30-year-old’s future remains uncertain, though there has been little interest in the former Barcelona star. Sanchez did enjoy a decent Copa America with his national team, however he looks unsuited to the direction in which Solskjaer wants to take his new-look team.
His staggering club-record £500,000-a-week wages remain a huge problem, causing difficulties in negotiating new terms with other squad members and no clubs willing to take on his huge pay-packet.
Solskjaer and United must make a hard decision on whether to cut their losses and allow Sanchez to leave on the cheap, or give him another chance to impress.
Bridging the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool
If times were not hard enough for United fans currently, seeing their two biggest rivals establish themselves as English football’s elite is a bitter pill to swallow.
Man City completed England’s first ever domestic treble, whilst Liverpool ran them close for the title before lifting a sixth European Cup with Champions League success in Madrid.
United finished a huge 31 and 32 points behind their two rivals respectively last season, a huge gap to bridge in a single season.
Solskjaer’s desire to focus on young talent will also require patience, and the United boss will need to try and appease the club’s fanbase by showing improvement at the same time.
City and Liverpool show no sign of letting up next season, and Solskjaer’s ability to close the gap on the top two could be the clearest indication of whether his side are headed in the right direction.
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