Manchester United head into the 2018-19 season with one clear goal in mind: to decimate the 19-point gap that existed between Manchester City and themselves last term and become serious title challengers again for the first time in six years.
Jose Mourinho has been far from happy with the moves made to this point in the summer market, and his mood has hardly been lightened by the disruption caused to his preparations by the successes of many of his squad in the World Cup.
While the United team which lines up in the first week or two of the season may well take on a more experimental look, and the final days of the transfer window may throw up a few extra options, Mourinho now has a fair idea of what sort of squad he will have to work with for the campaign ahead.
But how will his team look for the majority of the Premier League campaign?
For some time now there has been simply no question as to who will start between the sticks for Manchester United. David de Gea’s fourth Player of the Year award in five years last season underlined his incredible importance to the cause, and there is no sign of him being displaced for a number of years to come.
But United do have a different look about their goalkeeping staff this time around, with Lee Grant having been added from Stoke City to allow Joel Pereira to head out on loan for the season at Vitoria Setubal. Grant will supply experienced support to De Gea and his understudy Sergio Romero, with Pereira getting far more game time than he was afforded in 2017-18.
There has been no clear pecking order in terms of defensive options for United in recent seasons, with a plethora of centre-backs having been given lengthy stints in the starting XI and the unlikely sight of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young making the full-back spots their own.
The two ageing wide men should be the first choice wide pairing for the start of the season at least, although an improved term is expected of Luke Shaw and young Diogo Dalot has been brought in from Porto.
In the heart of the defence United continue to search for a big name centre-back, with Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire the most serious options. If neither of those get over the line there are still the likes of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to showcase their wares, with the hope being that the former pairing will begin to show their best form now that they are more familiar with the Premier League.
One thing which has most certainly held back United over recent years has been the inability to get the best out of their midfield, and this season ought to be when they finally get the balance right.
Having switched to a 4-3-3 late last term, Mourinho will likely start with the same formation for 2018-19, with new signing Fred set to add the new dimension to their play which should benefit Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba.
Throw in the variety of possibilities provided by Ander Herrera, Andreas Pereira, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay and Mourinho is not short of options when it comes to contracting the engine room as and when needed.
There will be a huge spotlight on Pogba in particular, with his triumphant run to World Cup glory with France showing just what he can offer in a side firing on all cylinders. If he can replicate that form at club level then United could be a hugely imposing outfit this season.
Having swapped Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Alexis Sanchez in the winter window Mourinho insisted he would not be adding another forward to the squad this summer and he has so far been true to his word.
Instead, with a full pre-season behind him, the hope is that Sanchez displays a new lease of life having struggled to adapt in the final months of last season. The Chilean certainly started well on the US tour over the summer, and if he can mesh well with Romelu Lukaku over the coming months then United should be a real threat.
There are some uncertainties in the forward line though, with Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata theoretically fighting for one position alongside Sanchez and Lukaku while the future of Anthony Martial needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.
Who Mourinho deploys on the right of attack might well decide just how close they go to overhauling City this season.
Mourinho’s mood is likely to play a huge part in United’s destiny, and the pre-season signs are not particularly great in that respect.
The next nine months could well prove to be a gigantic phase of the Portuguese’s managerial career, with the widespread belief that he cannot sustain success beyond the first couple of years in any role set to be put to the test in his third season at Old Trafford.
United need him to quickly overcome whatever gripes he has with the way the summer transfer business has been conducted and get on with the task at hand. Looking at his squad he is not far from having a group primed for a title tilt and so he can have few serious complaints with the support he has been given since arriving in Manchester.
Regardless of the difference between the squad he wanted and the squad he has, Mourinho will be the man to carry the can if United don’t deliver this season.
How Man Utd could line up
They might not start off with the likes of Victor Lindelof and Marcus Rashford nailing down positions but Mourinho might ideally have them in the starting XI if they are playing at their best. With no natural right winger in their squad, Rashford's pace rather than Juan Mata's guile could offer more threat in the forward line. Meanwhile, at the back, Chris Smalling played the majority of games last season as Lindelof took time to get used to the Premier League environment.
The positive aspect for United is that they have plenty of strength in depth, with the likes of Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot, Andrea Pereira, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial all among those who could be left fighting for attention in Mourinho's squad.