Manchester United kickstart their 2022/2023 campaign with an opener at Old Trafford against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.
The Reds will be looking to build on an excellent pre-season in new manager Erik ten Hag’s inaugural season in England after a disastrous 2021/2022 season that saw the team finish a calamitous sixth place.
Ahead of Sunday’s clash against the Seagulls, the 52-year-old finds himself with just three signings in what has been a frustrating and terribly disappointing transfer window. Nevertheless, the expectation remains that the team should improve and make meaningful steps forward.
Here are some of my predictions on how the 2022/2023 season will shape up for the 20-time English champions.
United will finish outside the top 4
Last season’s combined efforts between Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and interim boss Ralf Rangnick saw the club finish in the worst shape in their history. Not only did they end up 35 points behind champions and city rivals Manchester City, but also finished 13 points below the Champions League positions.
A top 4 finish will be on the cards for Ten Hag and while this may be the minimum requirement at the Theatre of Dreams, I predict this will be well beyond him. United still have a lot of positions to address, including in midfield which was a glaring hole last season. The attacking department is extremely thin and with the expected departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, the situation will only become direr.
The squad has barely improved even with the confirmed incomings and as such, the Dutchman will still have an uphill battle on his hands. Factor in United’s top 4 rivals such as Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea, and how these sides have strengthened – they will only become more formidable propositions.
United will win the Europa League
As pathetic as it sounds, with United not being synonymous with Thursday night football, the Europa League is the best chance of winning silverware next season for the club. Supporters have been starved of a trophy for so long that not many will mind the Europa League. Winning it would also give the club an avenue into the Champions League.
There are not many teams of United’s caliber in the competition and the biggest threats will be presented from the eight teams that will drop from the Champions League into the Europa draw. United reached the final in 2021, losing out to Villareal on penalties. This season, I back them to finish the job in Budapest.
Jadon Sancho will be the club’s player of the season
The Englishman has been United’s best player in pre-season, reminiscent of the player the club hierarchy bought in a big money deal from Borussia Dortmund. The 22-year-old had a disappointing first season in England but if his pre-season performances are anything to go by, could be a defining player for the manager.
He looks to have rediscovered his best form playing in his preferred right-wing position from which he has been United’s deadliest attacking forward. With his lethal dribbling, running at defenders, and taking on his man in one-vs-one scenarios, fans know what kind of player they have on their hands. This is the season the England international steps into the fray and shows everyone why he is one of the best in the business in his position.
Anthony Martial will replace Ronaldo and become the club’s top scorer
The Frenchman is another who has been thriving under the new boss. After an unsuccessful season, Martial looks rejuvenated and expectation within the fanbase for the player is at an all-time high.
His hold-up play, link-up ability, and one-touch football has been second to none on United’s tour. What has stood out is his pressing and keenness on defensive aspects of the game. I predict that the 26-year-old will replace Ronaldo as the starting striker in the event the Portuguese fails to get his move out of Old Trafford. He bodes better for what the manager wants and how he likes to play. Martial will also finish as the club’s top scorer.
Alejandro Garnacho will have a breakthrough season
The Argentine youngster impressed against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday and previously netted in a 4-1 win behind closed doors win over Wrexham. He has also been training with the first team. United’s shortness in attack will mean that the former Ajax boss will turn to youngsters like Garnacho in certain games to give others a rest.
The highly rated 18-year-old is so talented that he will eventually force himself into a more prominent role during the season. Whenever given the chance, the youngster has never disappointed and has always stood up to be counted. With reports suggesting the manager wants to keep him, it is only a matter of time before he breaks through and dazzles for the world to see.
Donny van de Beek will prove many people wrong
It has not been plain sailing for Van de Beek who arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2020. The Netherlands international has barely featured for United since his arrival. However, his former manager’s arrival could be just what the 25-year-old needed to jumpstart his career in England.
Van de Beek has played significantly more first-team minutes on United’s tour than ever before. He also looks to be improving with every game, just in time for the new season. The manager’s inclination to rotate compared to his predecessors will also see that the player is more involved and given the opportunity to stake a claim in the side. With a higher frequency of involvement, Van de Beek will undoubtedly pay back supporters who have always held him close to their hearts.
David de Gea will not finish the season as starting goalkeeper
If there is one player who has credit in the bank with the Old Trafford faithful it’s De Gea. However, the Spaniard’s days as United’s starting man between the sticks seem to be numbered. Ten Hag’s style of play demands a sweeping goalkeeper, swift off his line, and good with his feet, all attributes you do not associate with De Gea.
Granted, he is one of the world’s best at shot-stopping, but the manager’s football philosophy’s reliance on a goalkeeper who can play out from the back will render De Gea surplus to requirements eventually. Even in pre-season, there were glimpses of his shortcomings, with one such incident triggering an angry reaction from Ten Hag from the touchline. It may come to pass that Heaton replaces him during the season or another goalkeeper should United bring one in.
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