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Top winners and losers from Manchester United’s pre-season

by Vatsal Gupta


Manchester United ended their pre-season proceedings with a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao in Ireland. Red Devils played eight games in less than a month and finished with a record of four wins, three losses, and a draw.

Many new prospects emerged, while for some players, this pre-season possibly solidified their dwindling influence at the club.

Here are the top winners and losers from a frantic pre-season for United-

Winners

Kobbie Mainoo

Kobbie Mainoo has always been a highly-rated prospect at United. However, this pre-season, something clicked.

Erik ten Hag is a manager who’s notoriously difficult to please. By the end of the pre-season, Ten Hag was dedicating a whole column in his matchday programme to wishing Mainoo the best of luck as he makes starts on the path of recovery from an injury.

Before going off injured against Real Madrid, he was looking set to play a major role in United’s fortunes this season.

His young age belied his mature game and he didn’t look out of place in any game he played. There is a first-team berth waiting for him when he returns which makes him the biggest winner of the pre-season.

To manage all that at just 18, while missing half the fixtures is a testament to the quality the midfielder showed when he played.

Bruno Fernandes

After being handed the captaincy permanently, Fernandes looks to have unlocked another gear to his game.

Ten Hag also used him as a quarterback of sorts, and he relished that role, regularly pinging unbelievable passes to runners ahead of him.

There was a newfound maturity in his on-pitch conduct as well. Conscious of his responsibility as a captain, he was more mature in his interactions with opposite players and the referee.

He was even seen dragging Ten Hag away from a confrontation with the fourth official in one of the fixtures.

Fernandes is the kind of player who thrives with added responsibility and it is likely that his first full season as United captain turns out to be the best one yet. That is some statement, considering he has been a constant figure for United in terms of raw stats.

Rasmus Hojlund

Can a player who didn’t even play a single minute in the pre-season really be a winner? Yes, in Hojlund’s case.

United struggled throughout the pre-season to score regularly as they missed a focal point up front. Jadon Sancho did an appreciable job as a False 9 and can be an honourable mention among the winners of the pre-season.

However, with every missed chance, every ball flashed into the box without a player in sight to attack it, Hojlund’s importance to the squad increased exponentially.

The Dane has arrived injured and is likely to miss the first few games of the Premier League season. However, his absence has raised the clamour for his inclusion even more as the team struggles to play without a natural striker.

This brings us to the losers of the pre-season…

Losers

Anthony Martial

Just like Hojlund was a winner of pre-season despite not playing for United, Martial is a loser because of not playing at all.

The Frenchman sustained a hamstring injury near the end of last season. He played just 1,441 minutes of football all season, an unbelievable number considering he was the only natural striker at the club till Weghorst came in.

He has picked up where he left off last season. Ten Hag was optimistic over his fitness last week but since then, he hasn’t played in the three games.

It has left him without a single minute in the pre-season. With Hojlund coming, Sancho emerging as an option, and Marcus Rashford ever-present, Martial might be on borrowed time.

His contract expires next year and Ten Hag’s public backing means nothing, as David de Gea can attest to. The clock is ticking.

Amad

The stage was set for Amad to ride the momentum of his successful Sunderland loan and establish himself in the first-team picture at United.

However, an ill-timed injury against Arsenal left him on the outside looking in for the rest of the pre-season. In his absence, Facundo Pellistri was electric and might have jumped ahead of him.

When he comes back, he’ll find increased competition in an already clogged attack.

Ill-timed injuries often change the trajectory of a player’s career. Amad would hope this is just a blip, not a period.

Harry MaguireĀ 

It has been a whirlwind month for Maguire. First, the captaincy was taken from him. Then, he was out of the leadership group altogether, with Scott McTominay, Casemiro, and Tom Heaton captaining the team with him on the pitch.

Then, the moment with Andre Onana went viral, and against Athletic Bilbao, Dan Gore had a go at him to correct his positioning.

That is to say nothing about his on-pitch performances.

The mistake against Bilbao was just another in a string of displays which shows Maguire is suffering from a crisis of confidence. The tentative nature of his play isn’t helped by the fans booing him, but that’s the vicious cycle he’s in.

He needs to leave to save himself at this point.

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