Manchester United have ended their pre-season with six wins from six, with Saturday’s coming with the asterisk of having been achieved with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out success following a 2-2 draw with AC Milan in Cardiff.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side ended the last Premier League campaign with a shocking run of form which culminated in a 2-0 home defeat to already-relegated Cardiff City, yet they head into next Sunday’s 2019-20 opener against Chelsea with a greater degree of momentum thanks to their summer exploits.
But what will the Norwegian have really learned from his team’s performances in pre-season? Goal looks at five of the key lessons…
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Press is best
The new style of play which Solskjaer has injected this summer sees United looking far more forceful and vibrant.
With Anthony Martial appearing first choice to lead the line for the first time in over three years in a fluid interchange with Marcus Rashford, the Reds have shown a willingness to defend from the front with a high press which has put opposition sides on the back foot for long spells.
Far from sitting in and inviting pressure as often happened under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, Solskjaer’s United look set to be a far more dynamic prospect when they lose the ball. They are far fitter, for a start, allowing them to maintain a higher tempo for longer than in recent years.
It finally feels like United are about to play a style of football which suits the modern game, with the draw with Milan coming after a notable drop in the rhythm from previous fixtures. That, if anything, was a timely lesson learned.
Wan-Bissaka is the real deal
‘The Spider’ has made an immediate impact as a Manchester United player.
His £50 million ($60m) arrival had many initially questioning whether the 20-time champions had spent too much on a right-back with only 46 senior appearances to his name, but it has taken him almost no time to prove he has what it takes to be a United star for years to come.
The 21-year-old’s cool head in the tackle and willingness to get forward and cause issues in the opposite half have been among the features of pre-season. And for a club who have been without a regular recognised right-back for at least half a decade, Wan-Bissaka is a luxury nobody at Old Trafford is taking for granted.
Maguire is exactly what they need
Solskjaer used six different centre-backs over the six summer games and, while they conceded only three goals in total, there remained a sluggishness about some of their defending. Beyond Victor Lindelof, there is no truly outstanding candidate to be a Manchester United starter at the heart of the back four, and Eric Bailly’s long-term injury hardly helps matters either.
So the news that Harry Maguire is a medical away from officially becoming a United player could not have been better timed.
While many have grievances over the £80m ($97m) cost of the England man, few can claim that he is not an upgrade on what Solskjaer currently has at his disposal.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are each candidates to make way having failed to convince in recent years, while Axel Tuanzebe could get some game time this season having completed a loan apprenticeship at Aston Villa.
But Maguire is ready now, and United will gain a lot from his commanding style.
They’re not the same without Pogba
The often-stagnant performance against Milan came as more evidence that United without a fit and firing Paul Pogba are just not the same side.
The Frenchman missed the game in Cardiff due to a back spasm and the Reds looked sluggish and low on ideas for long spells. Whereas in previous games they had seen Pogba provide an extra dimension to their attacking game, prompting all sorts of runs from the front four, United no longer had the same edge when on the ball.
It would appear now that Pogba will remain at United for at least one more year, with his talk of seeking "a new challenge" having not come to anything amid a rocky summer for Real Madrid. And that can only be good news for United, because when the World Cup winner is at the top of his game he can be one of the most destructive players in world football.
The kids are alright
United took Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and James Garner with them on the tour to Australia and Asia after all four had become more involved in the first-team set-up following Solskjaer’s arrival at the club last December.
During their time away, Garner, Greenwood and Gomes all notched their first senior goals and Chong also starred for spells, justifying the manager’s faith in the club’s existing young talents.
Greenwood in particular appears primed to play a large role in United’s squad this season after netting against both Leeds United and Inter, and then slotted home unbothered from the penalty spot in front of 65,000 in Cardiff on Saturday.
Gomes, another spot-kick scorer at the Principality Stadium, could also feature quite heavily, especially if Solskjaer decides to rotate his side for the demanding Europa League campaign.
And on the evidence of the last six games, United will be well served to give some of their stars of the future plenty of chances in the nine months that await.