Manchester United packed eight pre-season friendlies into less than a month this summer, starting with victory over Leeds in Olso in mid-July and finishing with a draw against Athletic Club in Dublin in early August.
There were also four games in the United States in between, as well as one in Scotland and another back home at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag’s team ultimately had mixed results. A young side won against Leeds and then followed it up by beating Lyon in Edinburgh. The seniors then got involved to beat Arsenal 2-0 in New Jersey, before the kids lost to Wrexham in San Diego and further first-team games against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Houston and Las Vegas respectively also ended in defeat.
There was a win in the first game at Old Trafford since last season, although it had to be from behind after Lens initially took the lead. Only a very late equaliser then prevented defeat in Dublin.
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Maguire was stripped of the Man Utd captaincy a few days into pre-season. It was a decision that was to be expected given the centre-back’s lack of consistent starts throughout 2022/23 after getting unceremoniously dropped only a couple of games into the campaign.
Once the most expensive player in British football, Maguire’s playing time during the summer is indicative that his status at Ten Hag’s Man Utd hasn’t changed. He was part of the second string that drew against Athletic Club the day after the starters beat Lens and his only other start came in the defeat to Borussia Dortmund. Andre Onana also yelled in his face on the pitch.
Man Utd are willing to sell Maguire but rejected West Ham’s £30m offer this week.
Mason Mount became a Man Utd player in early July and, as such, was able to report for the very first day of pre-season training only a few days later. The fact that he hadn’t been picked by England the previous month due to a minor fitness concern was probably a blessing in disguise because it gave him additional time to get his feet under the table at his new club.
The former Chelsea star was one of only a handful of senior players involved when Man Utd faced Leeds and Lyon, before those who had been on international duty returned in time to go to America.
Time to settle is invaluable in football and Mount has been afforded it when summer signings in previous years haven’t always had that luxury.
Man Utd fans were thrilled to see Stockport-born Kobbie Mainoo making a positive impact in pre-season, hoping the midfielder might be the next home-grown talent to become a first-team star.
The 18-year-old started against Leeds and Lyon, but tellingly kept that place when Man Utd subsequently faced Arsenal as well, lining up alongside Mount and Bruno Fernandes.
He was playing with maturity and composure beyond his years and everything looked bright.
Mainoo also started against Real Madrid, but things took a turn when he was forced off with an ankle injury only six minutes into the game. Seemingly on the verge of having a regular first-team role, that unforeseen setback is now expected to keep the youngster sidelined until 2024.
“[The injury] was really disappointing for Kobbie Mainoo, but also for us because he was doing brilliant, but that happens in football,” Ten Hag told MUTV after it happened.
“We have the squad and you have to deal with it. I hope he’ll be back quickly, we’ll support him, but he must do it by himself. I’m sure he’ll be back because he’s so resilient.”
Omari Forson probably wasn’t a name many Man Utd fans were familiar with before this summer, but the 19-year-old winger clearly made an impression on Ten Hag because he kept getting chances.
Forson played 45 minutes against both Leeds and Lyon with the young squad, and was then also included in the more senior group for the high profile matches against European giants instead of sticking with the youngsters to face Wrexham. That experience will be vital to his development.
With the attributes that he has and the potential yet to be unleashed, there is every chance Rasmus Hojlund becomes a home-run signing for Man Utd and the long-term striker that they have craved since Anthony Martial briefly threatened to be a prolific number nine in 2019/20.
But negotiations with Atalanta took a while and the young Dane couldn’t complete his transfer until the very end of pre-season. By that time, Hojlund was already carrying an injury that he suffered prior to arriving and his debut will be delayed by at least a few weeks, without a pre-season to ease in.
Given the pressure that will be on his shoulders anyway due to the price tag, it’s far from ideal.
Defeats to Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund weren’t what Man Utd or Erik ten Hag would have wanted, with the boss referring to the performance in the latter as ‘unforgivable’.
But that in itself highlights the standards that the Dutchman continues to push – ‘unacceptable’ seemed to be one of his favoured words last season as he sought to whip a previously underachieving squad into shape. This was another pre-season under his belt in that fight.
Ten Hag was handed new signings in positions that he wanted to strengthen, including former charge Andre Onana, a goalkeeper tipped to revolutionise the way Man Utd play after it had become apparent that the modern game had somewhat left David de Gea behind.
There is still work to be done, but the Man Utd boss has plenty to be be optimistic about.
LISTEN TO 90MIN’S MAN UTD PODCAST: THE PROMISED LAND
On this edition of The Promised Land, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders and Rob Blanchette talk about Jean-Clair Todibo potentially replacing Harry Maguire, as well as views on Scott McTominay, Fred, Dean Henderson and Donny van de Beek. If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!