Manchester United have what Paul Pogba thinks is “definitely the strongest” squad he has played in at Old Trafford – but the club’s summer business, signing Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo has ramped up the pressure on seven of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players. Express Sport looks at those under the spotlight for the Red Devils.
All the noises earlier in 2021 were that Dean Henderson expected to be named No 1 for the current campaign and that he may reconsider his future were he not the first-choice shot-stopper for Solskjaer.
The 24-year-old academy graduate has yet to play this season after contracting Covid and has only recently returned to full training after overcoming his illness.
In his absence, rival David de Gea has re-established himself as the go-to man between the sticks and produced an incredible double save at Wolves.
That means it’s up to Henderson to remind his manager of his quality whenever he gets minutes again, but he seems primed for plenty of time on the bench again this term. With De Gea tied down until at least June 2023, and the option to extend for a further year, this could be a make-or-break season in Henderson’s United career.
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Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly
Last weekend’s win over Wolves at Molineux saw Raphael Varane come into the team for the first time this season, replacing Victor Lindelof as Harry Maguire’s partner at centre-back.
The Frenchman’s pedigree and the fact Maguire is club captain means the pair will start the vast majority of matches against one another, and Lindelof and Eric Bailly have been demoted to third and fourth-choice stand-ins as a result.
The pair have had mixed success in their spells at Old Trafford and at 27 years old each will be keen for regular game time. They face a huge task to prove that it is in Manchester where they can achieve that aim.
Only injury is likely to see them come back into the United team for a prolonged spell unless they can really take their chances when they play sparingly in cup competitions and when the XI is rotated for lesser league fixtures.
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The signature of Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier was sought all summer by United but ultimately the England international’s price tag proved prohibitive.
That has allowed Diogo Dalot another shot at United after a loan spell with AC Milan last term, and at just 22 years old, the Portugal international has time on his side to assert himself at Old Trafford yet.
Wan-Bissaka is lauded for his defensive assets but questions have been asked about his attacking attributes and Dalot will hope in the matches he gets to prove he can offer the kind of threat that Luke Shaw and Alex Telles can from the left.
Dalot would certainly love to share the pitch a few times with compatriot Ronaldo in the knowledge of the frontman’s incredible ability in the air combined with the full-back’s crossing ability.
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Donny van de Beek
The Daily Mail claim Everton launched a last-minute bid to land Donny van de Beek, signed from Ajax for £35million a year ago, on loan but were unable to bring in the Netherlands international.
Van de Beek is said to have been assured he will play more than in his debut campaign when the talented 24-year-old made a mere eight Premier League, Champions League and Europa League matches combined.
Having been an unused substitute in three league games thus far, Van de Beek needs to make the most of the outings he is afforded in order to break into the United side.
If he can impress in holding midfield, rather than relying on opportunities to play in Bruno Fernandes’ No 10 role, then perhaps Van de Beek can finally prove himself in England.
Jesse Lingard thrived on loan at West Ham last term but the Hammers instead signed Nikola Vlasic on deadline day.
Solskjaer has made a point of saying Lingard has a role at Old Trafford though most of those comments came before Ronaldo came back, adding yet another player to compete with in the final third.
Lingard is unlikely to start regularly for United but should get his minutes here and there having been involved in the match-day squad for both of the last two games, coming on off the bench in the closing stages at Southampton.
The academy graduate, who has 29 England caps, is out of contract at the end of this season and needs to perform when he comes into the side to either earn a new deal in Manchester or convince clubs elsewhere to come in for him with lucrative offers in January or next summer.
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With Ronaldo returning to United, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial are the players primed to suffer most given that the Portuguese striker will expect to start almost every match he’s available for.
Cavani was a success in his only season at United so far last term with 17 goals and the Uruguayan veteran’s supreme movement should see him still get a fair amount of starts under Solskjaer.
Martial meanwhile has disappointed since his 23-goal season in 2019-20 and is the most likely attacker, alongside Lingard, to be moved on in the next two transfer windows.
Can the Frenchman reinvent himself as an option out wide or make rediscover a ruthless streak in front of goal to show he can still be a centre-forward for the club? If he doesn’t, his future surely lies elsewhere.