Van de Beek, Elanga and the big winners from Man Utd's pre-season

Donny van de Beek Anthony Elanga Manchester United GFXGetty/Goal

Off the field for Manchester United, this pre-season has - so far - been an unmitigated success, with Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane poised to be two of the signings of the summer in the Premier League.

On the field, results have been mixed for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team in their friendly fixtures, though Saturday's 4-0 win over Everton suggested that the Red Devils are cranking through the gears at the right time ahead of their season opener against Leeds United.

Euro 2020, the Copa America and the Olympics have left Solskjaer without a full compliment of players to choose from in recent weeks, though that has meant a number of fringe players have been able to catch the eye.

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But who have been the biggest winners from United's pre-season? And who will head into the new campaign needing a bit of a lift after a difficult summer?

Anthony Elanga 

Almost every pre-season, there is that one bright, young star that stands out when few were expecting them to shine.

It has been no different in 2021, with this time it being the turn of teenage forward Anthony Elanga.

Those who regularly watch United's Under-23s games will not have been surprised by the Sweden youth international's displays, with Elanga having won the club's Young Player of the Year award in 2020 before picking up where he left off with some clinical finishing, fancy footwork and pacey attacking play last season.

The 19-year-old has certainly impressed Solskjaer, who joked that Elanga was giving him a "great problem" in terms of what he should do with him for the coming season. 

Anthony Elanga Manchester United GFXGetty/Goal

“It would be easy to say the boy should go on loan, but he's doing so well," Solskjaer said following Elanga's goal against QPR. "He’s electric. His pace, his skill - he’s got the courage and bravery of a Man United player,

“I wouldn't be surprised if he's going to be staying here. It's important for him to develop and get game time, but at the moment he's one of them we've not really decided. If he keeps on like this, I might want to keep him.”

Elanga has been back with the U23s squad in recent days as they prepare for the start of their season this weekend against Leicester  City, and with interest from clubs in taking him on loan, there is a big decision to be made on whether he spends the campaign straddling playing for the youth side while earning the odd first-team involvement, or if a move away would be more beneficial to his development. 

Whatever decision is made, Elanga has ensured he is firmly on Solskjaer’s radar. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 

It has, all things considered, been a very good summer for Solskjaer.

He enjoyed a holiday with his family, put pen to paper on a new contract and has been backed in the transfer window.

As such, he has appeared relaxed and content ahead of the new campaign, despite being fully aware of the pressure on him to deliver silverware this season while ensuring his side are still competing for the title come the business end of the season. 

He has strengthened in his two priority positions with the arrivals of Sancho and Varane, meaning that there is a real belief that this United team - that also now has additional depth due to the emergence of youngsters and squad players this summer - is going to be strong enough to compete at the very highest level.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United GFXGetty/Goal

Solskjaer was unhappy at this stage of last season after his side were only able to play one pre-season game, and though preparations this summer’s have not been perfect, with the team's planned friendly against Preston North End cancelled due to a Covid-19 scare, it has been a big improvement on the from the Norwegian's point of view.. 

Donny van de Beek 

One of those squad players who has given Solskjaer a boost this summer is Donny van de Beek.

Solskjaer suggested the Netherlands international needed last season to adapt to life in England, and after a summer where he has been able to enjoy a full pre-season having missed the European Championship through injury, he has come back with a bulkier frame and a determination to push for his place in the starting XI. 

A tweak to Solskjaer’s tactics could also enable Van de Beek to get more game time. He impressed against Everton alongside Bruno Fernandes, with Nemanja Matic deployed as the deepest lying midfielder, with Solskjaer seemingly looking to play 4-3-3 more regularly this term. 

The system was well executed against the Toffees at Old Trafford, particularly in the first half, and playing with two No. 8s would certainly suit Van de Beek.  

Diogo Dalot 

Just like Solskjaer, it has been a great summer for Diogo Dalot.

The full-back impressed so much for Portugal in their run to the final of U21 European Championship, where he played every minute of the tournament, that he earned himself a late call-up to the senior squad for Euro 2020 after Joao Cancelo withdrew with Covid-19. 

Dalot proved he was not just there to make up the numbers either, as Fernando Santos named the 22-year-old in his starting XI for the defending champions' last-16 clash against Belgium.

Though that game in ended in defeat, Dalot has since hit the ground running having returned to United training. 

Diogo Dalot Manchester United GFXGetty/Goal

He has been so impressive in his two weeks back at the club that Solskjaer is now strongly considering keeping Dalot around for 2021-22.

AC Milan have shown interest in taking the defender back on loan following his strong performances at San Siro during the second half of last season, but with a deal for Atletico Madrid star Kieran Trippier stalling over the fee, there is hope Dalot can provide the competition United want for Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right back. 

“I want to keep playing, I want to keep giving everything I have and improve. I know last season was fantastic but I can do even more,” Dalot told club media from their training camp in Scotland. 

He has since topped off a good pre-season with a goal off the bench against Everton, and there is real hope the ex-Porto youngster can kick on in the coming months. 

All is not rosey, though...

While it has been a great summer for some members of United's squad, it has been a difficult pre-season for a others in the first-team group.

Marcus Rashford, for one, is expected to be sidelined until October after undergoing shoulder surgery.

The England international has been playing through the pain barrier since last year, and Solskjaer will be without the star forward for the first couple of months of the season as he recovers and gets back to full fitness. 

Marcus Rashford Manchester United GFXGetty/Goal

Another England player who has not had an ideal pre-season is Dean Henderson.

The goalkeeper had recovered from the hip injury which forced him to withdraw from the Three Lions' squad at Euro 2020, but has been struggling with the long-term effects of contracting Covid-19. 

“Dean was positive early on and he’s negative in his testing, but he’s not felt as energised and sharp as he has done, so he’s still fatigued and feeling the after effects,” Solskjaer said. “He’s got a few days still to rest and then we’ll check up on him.”

Consequently, Henderson has not played any pre-season games, putting David de Gea, who started against Everton, in pole position to start the season opener against Leeds.

Henderson had usurped De Gea for the No.1 position at the back end of 2019-20 after a run of impressive displays, but now faces having to fight for his position once more when back to full health.

It has also been a difficult summer for Eric Bailly. The centre-back enjoyed competing for Cote d'Ivoire at the Olympics in Tokyo, but news of Varane’s arrival will have come as a blow to the 27-year-old, who only signed a new deal in April under the assurance he would be given regular playing time.

Varane’s presence is instead likely to see Bailly pushed further down the pecking order, with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof both still ahead of him too.

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