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Manchester United season preview - predictions, fixtures, summer signings, starting XI

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Manchester United ahead of the start of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Manchester United will approach the new Premier League season with a sense of optimism after a positive and encouraging end to the previous campaign.

The Red Devils are unbeaten in the league since January, securing a return to the Champions League in the process, and the target now will be to try to close the gap on the top two.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ahead of the upcoming campaign.



How did they fare last season?

Manchester United players celebrate Bruno Fernandes's goal against Leicester City in the Premier League on July 26, 2020© Reuters

Not too badly in the end.

It was very much a season of two halves for Manchester United, but at the end of it all they could not have hoped for much more than a third-placed finish and a return to Champions League football in the upcoming campaign.

A top-four spot was not confirmed until the final day of the season when they beat fellow hopefuls Leicester City at the King Power Stadium - a victory which ensured that they finished the season on a 14-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League stretching back to January.

The catalyst for that improvement was undoubtedly the January arrival of Bruno Fernandes, who scored 12 goals from February onwards including eight in the league.

It also took a Leicester collapse for them to break into the top four, though, with United sitting no higher than fifth place from September 2019 until their penultimate game of the season, when they finally climbed into the Champions League spots.

While the league campaign ended with celebration, there was disappointment in the cups as United became the first English side to be eliminated in the semi-finals of three separate competitions in one season.

The Red Devils were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Manchester City, the FA Cup by Chelsea and the Europa League by Sevilla to cap off a season of near-misses as far as silverware was concerned.



Biggest improvement needed

Greater consistency.

Manchester United certainly showed signs of this towards the end of the season by going 14 matches unbeaten, but a really dominant winning run was still lacking.

United's best league streak throughout the whole of the campaign was four wins in a row, and other than that they failed to string together more than two on the bounce.

In another season that may have been more damaging - they finished sixth with the same number of points in 2018-19, for example - and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be aware that his side may not get away with dropping points in 20 games again next term.



Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pictured on August 16, 2020© Reuters

A club legend for his decisive role in the 1999 treble and an 11-year Old Trafford career which yielded 126 goals in total, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was nonetheless a surprise choice to succeed Jose Mourinho in December 2018.

The Norwegian, whose only previous managerial experience at the top level had included two stints with Molde and suffering relegation with Cardiff City, has regularly seen his future come under scrutiny at Old Trafford.

However, following a string of high-profile failures in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, there is a feeling that Solskjaer is restoring an identity to United as they look to get back to challenging for the biggest honours.



Key player: Bruno Fernandes

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes pictured on July 26, 2020© Reuters

Despite only joining in January, Bruno Fernandes has already established himself as the key cog in Manchester United's team, almost single-handedly sparking their improvement in the second half of their season.

It was the Portuguese playmaker's attitude as much as it was his ability that helped to turn things around, rubbing off on other key players such as Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Fernandes directly contributed to 20 goals in his 22 appearances for the Red Devils and, if he can have a similar impact over the course of a whole season, it will no doubt help United to bridge the gap to the top two.



Summer transfer business

Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek pictured in October 2019© Reuters

In
Donny van de Beek (£35.1m, Ajax)
Alex Telles (£13.5m, Porto)
Edinson Cavani (free, unattached)
Facundo Pellistri (£7.7m, Penarol)

Out
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (free, Oldham Athletic)
George Tanner (free, Carlisle)
Alexis Sanchez (undisclosed, Inter Milan)
Ethan Hamilton (free, Peterborough United)
Tahith Chong (loan, Werder Bremen)
Alex Fojticek (free, Blackpool)
Matej Kovar (loan, Swindon Town)
Joel Pereira (loan, Huddersfield Town)
Demetri Mitchell (free, Blackpool)
Dylan Levitt (loan, Charlton Athletic)
Kieran O'Hara (free, Burton Albion)
James Garner (loan, Watford)
Andreas Pereira (loan, Lazio)
Diogo Dalot (loan, AC Milan)
Chris Smalling (£13.5m, Roma)
Di'Shon Bernard (loan, Salford City)

Man Utd total spent to date: £56.3m
Man Utd total received to date: £13.5m

Man Utd net transfer balance: -£42.9m




Squad

1. David de Gea (GK)
2. Victor Lindelof (DF)
3. Eric Bailly (DF)
4. Phil Jones (DF)
5. Harry Maguire (DF)
6. Paul Pogba (MF)
8. Juan Mata (MF)
9. Anthony Martial (FW)
10. Marcus Rashford (FW)
11. Mason Greenwood (FW)
12. Chris Smalling (DF)
13. Lee Grant (GK)
14. Jesse Lingard (MF)
15. Andreas Pereira (MF)
16. Marcos Rojo (DF)
17. Fred (MF)
18. Bruno Fernandes (MF)
20. Diogo Dalot (DF)
21. Daniel James (MF)
22. Sergio Romero (GK)
23. Luke Shaw (DF)
24. Timothy Fosu-Mensah (DF)
25. Odion Ighalo (FW)
29. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (DF)
31. Nemanja Matic (MF)
33. Brandon Williams (DF)
34. Donny van de Beek (MF)
37. James Garner (MF)
38. Axel Tuanzebe (DF)
39. Scott McTominay (MF)
- Dean Henderson (GK)



Possible starting XI

MNUXI



Fixture list

Manchester United's involvement in the semi-finals of last season's Europa League means that they will sit out the opening weekend, leaving a home game against Crystal Palace as their first match of the new campaign.

A tricky-looking October sees them face Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal - all at Old Trafford - while they will face Manchester City in the derbies in December and March.

The other fixture always of interest is the Liverpool clash - especially so now that Liverpool are looking to equal United's tally of 20 top-flight titles - and the first of those takes place at Old Trafford in January before the reverse at the beginning of May.

The Red Devils host newly-promoted Fulham in their penultimate game of the season before ending the campaign away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Manchester United players celebrate Anthony Martial's goal against Crystal Palace on July 16, 2020© Reuters

SEPTEMBER

12: Burnley (a) POSTPONED

19: Crystal Palace (h)

26: Brighton (a)

OCTOBER

3: Tottenham (h)

17: Newcastle United (a)

24: Chelsea (h)

31: Arsenal (h)

NOVEMBER

7: Everton (a)

21: West Brom (h)

28: Southampton (a)

Manchester United's Anthony Martial in action with Manchester City's Ederson on March 8, 2020© Reuters

DECEMBER

5: West Ham (a)

12: Man City (h)

15: Sheffield United (a)

19: Leeds (h)

26: Leicester (a)

28: Wolves (h)

JANUARY

2: Aston Villa (h)

12: Fulham (a)

16: Liverpool (a)

26: Sheffield United (h)

30: Arsenal (a)

Harry Maguire is mobbed after scoring Manchester United's second goal against Chelsea on February 17, 2020© Reuters

FEBRUARY

2: Southampton (h)

6: Everton (h)

13: West Brom (a)

20: Newcastle (h)

27: Chelsea (a)

MARCH

6: Man City (a)

13: West Ham (h)

20: Crystal Palace (a)

APRIL

3: Brighton (h)

10: Tottenham (a)

17: Burnley (h)

24: Leeds (a)

Andrew Robertson and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in action during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Liverpool on October 20, 2019© Reuters

MAY

1: Liverpool (h)

8: Aston Villa (a)

11: Leicester City (h)

15: Fulham (h)

23: Wolves (a)



Prediction: 4th

Manchester United are still being linked with some big-name signings with the window not closing until next month, and should some of those arrive then they might fancy their chances of pushing higher than the fourth-placed finish we have predicted.

The Red Devils certainly seem to be on the right track, but they remain a distance behind Liverpool and Man City, while Chelsea's business this summer is likely to make them much more of a force next season.

United's form in the second half of the campaign, plus the addition of Donny van de Beek, suggests that they will be capable of securing Champions League football again, but a title challenge may still be beyond them at this stage.


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Sergio Reguilon in action for Sevilla in the Europa League on August 6, 2020
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Saturday's key events


TRIATHLON
· After silvers in both the men's and women's events, Team GB will be fancied to get on the podium again in the mixed relay (11.30pm-1am)

SWIMMING
· Touted as Michael Phelps's successor, Caeleb Dressel already has two gold medals from these Games and he will be going for a third in the men's 50m butterfly final (2.30am)
· It is Katie Ledecky vs. Ariarne Titmus III in the women's 800m freestyle final, with Ledecky entering as firm favourite (2.46am)
· Great Britain will be heavily fancied to add another gold medal to their swimming haul, having produced by far the fastest qualifying time for the mixed 4x100m medley relay final (3.43am)

ATHLETICS
· Dina Asher-Smith is one of three British women in the 100m semi-finals (3.01am-3.20am), and will hope to challenge for a medal in what is likely to be a star-studded final (1.50pm)
· The inaugural Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event concludes with Great Britain one of the eight finalists going for gold (1.35pm)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB's dreams of an unlikely gold are still alive in the women's event as they face France in their semi-final (3.30am). The winners will face either New Zealand or Fiji in the gold medal match later in the day (10am)

SAILING
· Gold medals are up for grabs in the windsurfer - RS:X finals. Emma Wilson participates for Team GB in the women's final (6.33am), while Tom Squires is in action in the men's (7.33am)

TENNIS
· Following his shock semi-final defeat, ending his hopes of a Golden Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic battles for bronze against Pablo Carreno Busta (7am)
· The women's singles event reaches its conclusion with the gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova

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