No Sancho deal in sight as uncertainty mounts at Man Utd ahead of season opener

Jadon Sancho Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United Borussia Dortmund GFX
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It's been a disastrous off-season for the English record champions, who head into the new campaign with much the same squad as last term

Manchester United are ready to start the new season just one month after their Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla.

It's been a whirlwind break; a two-week holiday, two weeks' pre-season training, not to mention a few international fixtures thrown in.

Furthermore, the captain Harry Maguire was arrested and the club's prodigy Mason Greenwood broke Covid-19 protocol in Iceland.

And now, following a friendly defeat to Aston VillaCrystal Palace await at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.

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On the positive side, United’s delayed start to the season due to their involvement in Europe means they have already had a chance to cast an eye on their top-four rivals.

Chelsea, after all their spending, have already been tipped to challenge Liverpool to the title. Jurgen Klopp’s side got off to a winning if albeit unconvincing start and Arsenal have picked up where they left off after winning the FA Cup and Community Shield.

Nobody needs a sneak preview of Manchester City to know that they will be one of the strongest sides in the league again, so how do United currently fit in among the league’s best teams?

The team’s performances during Project Restart gave them renewed hope. Having secured third place, a position which felt way out of reach for a lot of the season, there was belief that after a good transfer window they would be in a position to challenge for the title.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer/Donny van de Beek Manchester United 2020-20

While it was impressive United finished third it cannot be forgotten they finished 33 points behind champions Liverpool and 15 behind runners up Man City. But have they improved enough in the few weeks since the season ended to close that gap?

They have managed to add to the squad by signing Donny van de Beek from Ajax. That was a good piece of business at £35 million ($46m) and he should provide competition in midfield and augment the talents of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.

But United are going into the season without the priority transfer target coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was after – a right-sided attacker by the name of Jadon Sancho. The name of Gareth Bale has been linked but worries over the Real Madrid winger's age, fitness and high wages put an end to that interest before it began in earnest. 

The last summer transfer window that ended without the club landing their priority target - Maguire back in 2018 - saw Jose Mourinho sacked by Christmas.

Solskjaer will not react in the same manner that the current Tottenham boss did over not getting who he was after but the situation will still concern the Norwegian.

It’s possible Sancho could arrive before the October 5 deadline but it is more likely that the club will have to settle for an alternative. Either way, they are going to have to get a move on with negotiations. Right now, United are starting the season with basically the same squad as last season.

They haven’t managed to shift any of the fringe players who they were willing to let leave; long contracts and big wages are unsurprisingly proving to be a stumbling block. Even Chris Smalling, who wanted to stay at Roma on a permanent basis, is facing the prospect of an Old Trafford return if United don’t come to an agreement with the Serie A club.

While they have an exciting-looking starting XI they are lacking strength in depth and are devoid of game changers off the bench. In the defeat to Sevilla in Cologne last month Solskjaer waited until the 87th minute to make a change despite needing an equaliser to get back into the game.

If that was a signal to the board that he needs more squad players then it has received very little feedback. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has consistently warned it would not be ‘business as usual’ in the current window due to the pandemic however, without some last-minute deals it could end up being a very long season.

Should United not manage to secure another signing before October 5, Solskjaer is going to have to hope that he avoids any major injuries this term. Pogba was absent for a large chunk of last season while Marcus Rashford was ruled out with a back injury for weeks. Fernandes arrived in January to great effect and helped compensate for the absences of others and those three will be key to United's objectives.

The United boss also has another big decision to make in who will be starting in goal.  Dean Henderson is back at the club after impressing on loan at Sheffield United and there’s mounting pressure on David de Gea after a number of high-profile mistakes last season.

Henderson is confident he can push the Spaniard for the No.1 spot and impressed in the pre-season friendly against Villa but Solskjaer still claims De Gea is the best in the world.

Solskjaer is confident his players are fit enough and young enough not to suffer burnout but it is going to be testament to the coach's game-management skills as to how well they can navigate through a busy season of fixtures having had little to no rest between campaigns.

With Solskjaer’s rebuild heading into its second year he has the basis of what could be a very good team that may have the potential to challenge for the title. He needs more backing from the board and, as they head into the first game of the season, the success of this campaign rests on a handful of very big decisions.