Manchester United are now halfway through their pre-season and Erik ten Hag will start thinking about what the starting squad will look like in the opener at Old Trafford next month.
United host Brighton on August 7 as they look to start their Premier League campaign with a win, to kick off what will hopefully be a much improved season for the Reds.
The manager has already spoken of the importance of the game against Graham Potter’s side and wants his side to be ready for the test, which will take place in less than three weeks.
“I see progress day by day, and it must be,” Ten Hag told MUTV. “Because we have to be ready for the start of the Premier League.”
It will be rather interesting to see how the manager lines up in his first-ever competitive game in charge of the club, with some clues being shown in pre-season with his squad selection.
Until now, it was about having a stronger team to start the game and then changing the XI to include a team with fringe players and youngsters.
Against Liverpool and Melbourne Victory those changes were made at half-time, but in the last clash with Crystal Palace there was only one half-time change, with Donny van de Beek replacing Scott McTominay .
The majority of the rest of the squad were substituted around the 60th minute, with David de Gea the only player to play the full game.
The situation will likely be similar in Perth when United take on Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. The team seems to be picking each other slowly for the opener.
However, there are three important big names worth mentioning.
First of all is the situation of Cristiano Ronaldo. The striker’s wishes to leave the club look increasingly unlikely to materialize, with a lack of suitors for the 37-year-old striker.
If he stays, many would say he would have an argument to start the opener, others would disagree.
However, it is unlikely that the decision will have to be made for this encounter, with Ten Hag having said he believes it will. He added that the Portuguese’s physical condition will undoubtedly be perfect. You’d rather imagine he needs to learn the tactical footprint the Dutchman is putting in place if he wants to stay at Old Trafford for another year.
🗣 Erik ten Hag on whether Cristiano Ronaldo could miss the start of the season: “I think so but he is training. I think we all know that Ronaldo is a top professional and will be in form. That’s the last concern I have.
— Utd District (@UtdDistrict) July 18, 2022
The other two will be the additions of Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen. They are United’s latest two signings as Ten Hag looks to strengthen his squad.
Although he was keen to mention that the Argentine defender would actually strengthen ‘the team’ and not just the team, hinting at a possible long-term starting spot for the ‘butcher of Amsterdam’.
However, it has also been pointed out that the former Ajax player is expected to adapt to the league and will also undergo individual training until United return from the tour, just like Eriksen.
This could mean the pair could start the opener of the campaign from the bench as they get used to working with the squad and the manager under the new circumstances at their new club.
Speaking of who could end up on the starting sheet, it looks like with Ronaldo all but confirmed not to start, the front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho are picking themselves.
The offensive trident has been a joy to watch so far in the preseason, and they’ll likely get a chance to strut their stuff against the Seagulls. If they impress, it could become a tough task for Ronaldo to find his way back into the squad immediately.
Meanwhile, Harry Maguire’s status as captain has been bolstered by the new manager, who has publicly trusted the Englishman to return to form under him this coming season.
His partner for the opener will more than likely be Raphael Varane, who has expressed his positive stance on the addition of Martinez, who will bring the competition that “all big clubs” need.
While Tyrell Malacia impressed on his first start for the club against Palace, with a fine deep cross with his weaker foot to trigger Martial’s opener, it’s likely Luke Shaw will find his place again for the opener. Premier League.
Diogo Dalot and Bruno Fernandes have been key cogs in the squad so far in pre-season. Meanwhile, Fred looked like he could be one of the biggest winners from the high pressing style implemented.
The only real potential head-scratcher for the manager will be the right central midfielder. McTominay did well there, but Van de Beek also came to life with an assist from that position against Patrick Vieira’s men, using the exact skills his manager described as his best strengths days before.
If there are any chances ahead of the new season for the Dutch midfielder with the strongest squad around him, then he could make a tough decision for Ten Hag. However, at the same time, McTominay, alongside Sancho and Dalot, has proven useful for the balance on the right side that United are beginning to create in the squad known for their dominance on the left side in the past.