A realistic sense of sanguinity for Man Utd?
This weekend hosts the start of the 2021/22 Premier League, the 9th season after Manchester United were last crowned the pinnacle of English football.
Currently in the midst of their best summer transfer spree since 2007, the Red Devils have zero excuses to not contest a replete title challenge as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes charge of his third full season in the Old Trafford hotseat.
Man United begin their league campaign Saturday lunchtime with a Roses derby at home to Leeds Utd, eight months after Marcelo Bielsa's men were hit for six upon their last visit to Old Trafford.
Scott McTominay scored twice inside the opening three minutes as Solskjaer's red army stormed to a 6-1 victory at a bare-crowded Theatre of Dreams.
This time out Old Trafford is expected to hold its highest capacity in nearly 18 months since McTominay sealed a 2-0 victory over Man City, in the presence of a convivial Stretford End.
One thing Solskjaer endured ahead of the new season which he lacked last year was a worthwhile pre-season with his squad.
With most senior players afforded an extended break following international action in the off-season, the club's youth players and fringe squad members had a platform to impress the boss. Due to quarantine restrictions United scheduled a local tour within the UK, consisting of friendlies both at and away from Old Trafford in addition to a training camp in Scotland.
United's first pre-season outing came at Pride Park where they encountered Wayne Rooney's Derby County side. In the first fixture donning their retro-inspired home strip, the Reds prevailed, 2-1, as Tahith Chong and Facundo Pellistri got on the scoresheet.
Rooney and Solskjaer were team-mates for three seasons between the former's arrival from Everton in 2004 and the latter's retirement in 2007; the pair of ex-strikers netted 379 goals between them in Man Utd colours.
Next up for United was a trip to central London featuring a training camp in Surrey, which preceded a match-up with another Championship outfit in Queens Park Rangers.
Jesse Lingard gave United an early lead but QPR came out firing in the second half and were 4-1 up at the hour mark. Anthony Elanga salvaged United’s second and final goal of their second pre-season test. FT, 2-4.
United returned to Carrington ahead of the visit of newly-promoted Brentford.
With 30,000 fans in attendance at Old Trafford, 19-year-old Elanga converted a volley from Wan-Bissaka's cross.
Soon after the half interval Andreas Pereira notably hit a screamer in off the underside of the crossbar in front of a jovial Stretford End. FT, 2-2.
The Reds planned to meet Preston North End before a 'small number' of United players and staff delivered positive tests for Covid-19 in the aftermath to the Brentford exhibition, and the fixture at Deepdale was called off as a precaution.
Following a training camp in sunny Scotland at St Andrews, United closed out their pre-season agenda with a home clash to Everton on Saturday.
With 55,000 spectators packed inside Old Trafford, United welcomed back first-team regulars namely Maguire, Fernandes, Shaw amongst others.
Greenwood capitalized on an error from Everton ’keeper Pickford to put Solskjaer’s men in front, before Shaw picked out Maguire from a corner for 2-0. Fernandes struck a direct free-kick from 25 yards to put United three goals to the good before half-time. Dalot's late looping header rounded United's thrashing of Rafa Benitez's Toffees. FT, 4-0.
Exactly one week prior to their season-opener with Leeds, the Everton game essentially served as a dress rehearsal for United who prepare to battle with their foes from Yorkshire.
In early July 2007, Sir Alex Ferguson unveiled the signings of Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich as well as Anderson & Nani (19 and 20-years-old at the time) who both arrived from Portugal. Additionally Carlos Tevez (then 23) was brought in on loan and these four charismatic signings steered Ferguson's troops to domestic and European glory 10 months later.
All four said players converted in the penalty shoot-out vs Chelsea in Moscow, of which Hargreaves and Tevez were named in the starting XI that night.
Flash forward to present day and Man United – for the first time in some years – have conducted shrewd business in their bid to reach the summit of the Premier League for the first time since 2013.
For the last decade or so United generally underperformed in respect to recruiting players, mainly up until Solskjaer took over the reigns in the M16.
United made 13 first-team signings over two seasons during Louis van Gaal's tenure as boss – to the estimated value of £300million – of which only Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial are still at the club.
José Mourinho was named manager in 2016 and he bought 10 players across his three summers in Manchester, in addition to the awry swap deal in January 2018 involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez. Mourinho's 10 signings cost in the region of £365million.
Solskjaer took over on a permanent basis in March 2019 signing a 3-year contract, and last month the Norwegian agreed to a new deal until June 2024.
His first summer in charge saw Solskjaer acquire Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dan James and Harry Maguire for a combined £150m before Bruno Fernandes arrived in January 2020 for £45m.
Man Utd did not spend big during summer 2020 mainly due to the pandemic.
Cavani joined on a free transfer and no more than £80m was splashed out on Donny Van de Beek, Alex Telles, Amad, and Pellistri.
As Ed Woodward approaches his final chapter as chief-executive, Solskjaer and his staff seek to be pragmatic in their dealings and to revoke United's reputation of being taken for a ride by other clubs in the transfer market, typically under Woodward's jurisdiction.
In his first transfer season following appointment as Man Utd's football director in March, John Murtough has seemingly made his presence known as the club have been proactive and sly thus far with two marquee signings already in the bag.
However with three weeks until the transfer window slams shut, United as we know it could well resurface in scrambling for business at the 11th hour.
United's first acquisition ahead of the new season was goalkeeper Tom Heaton, an Academy product who previously found first-team minutes elusive with Edwin van der Sar, Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak all higher up the pecking order.
Heaton left Man Utd in 2010, aged 24, and has since made 116 PL appearances playing for Burnley (96) and Aston Villa (20) before he returned to where it all began, on a free transfer.
Heaton, 35, has no intentions of simply warming the bench and is eagerly looking forward to keeping David de Gea and/or Dean Henderson on their toes.
van der Sar was also 35-years-old when he moved to United from Fulham in 2005 and the towering Dutch stopper was intrinsic as the club celebrated 4 league titles and a Champions League triumph during his glorious 6-year stint at Old Trafford.
Next through the doors at the Theatre of Dreams was Jadon Sancho, 21, who joined from Borussia Dortmund for a reported fee of £73million.
United had been eyeing Sancho for several years before eventually swooping in for the England winger who has 22 caps at national level.
Despite usually plying his trade down the right-wing, Sancho's versatility allows him to operate either side of the front 3 and the nimble forward is also equipped with bags of nifty tricks and skills.
Sancho could begin his United career on the left flank, with close friend and team-mate Marcus Rashford ruled out for the opening portion of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.
Days after Sancho completed his return to Manchester, statement signing no.2 was confirmed as United announced Raphaël Varane had made the switch from Real Madrid, for a fee in the region of £35m.
Few players have a CV more distinguished than the centre-half who won three LaLiga and four UCL titles in a decade with Los Blancos, topped off with the 2018 FIFA World Cup with his native France.
With medicals imminent, Varane is a serial winner profuse in strength, speed and aerial threat, and the 28-year-old may prove the perfect partner for Maguire at the heart of United’s defence.
Both the last two PL winners Liverpool & Man City each purchased an instrumental and game-changing centre-back – in the form of Virgil van Dijk and Ruben Dias – before going on to claim the league throne, and the United faithful will be counting their luck that Varane might sustain this trend.
United are yet to conduct more business and a new holding midfielder would presumably be next on Solskjaer's hit-list, yet any more incomings hinge on selling other squad members to raise transfer funds and mollify the exorbitant wage bill.
Some fringe players who may be on their way out before month-end include Lingard and Pereira – both of whom went out on loan last season due to lack of playing time under Solskjaer, and it appears the duo remain surplus to requirements.
Despite a promising spell at West Ham it still seems an uphill battle to break into the United first-team for Lingard, who turns 30 next year. Pereira scored a rocket in United's pre-season clash with Brentford last month, which may turn out to be his last goal in Manchester red.
Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot and Nemanja Matic – all signed by Mourinho – are others who could be heading for the exit doors as Solskjaer's revamp continues.
And now to address the elephant in the room, Monsieur Paul Pogba...
Man Utd are at risk of losing the French midfielder on a free transfer, for a second time, with less than a year remaining on his current contract in Manchester.
The club have secured the services of his countryman Varane albeit Pogba has been reticent on whether he intends to stay on at Old Trafford beyond next year.
Pogba is one of the finest midfielders worldwide and United are unquestionably better with him than without, nonetheless some feel this month would be the best time to part ways with the 28-year-old in order to recoup a portion of the [then-world record] £89million spent on Pogba in 2016.
As mentioned United will be looking to buy a new deep-lying midfielder in the next weeks and have been linked with a flurry of names across Europe – such as Eduardo Camavinga, Ruben Neves, Saul Niguez, Declan Rice amongst others.
Dependent on Pogba's situation is whether United will add one or two central midfielders to their ranks by deadline day.
United could also look to bring in extra cover at right-back in the event that Dalot departs on or before Aug. 31.
Should United sanction a deal for another defender, Atlético defender Kieran Trippier, 30, is believed to be in line for a move from Madrid to Manchester.
Solskjaer is reported to be uneasy about Wan-Bissaka's attacking output and he could envisage Bury-born Trippier complementing Wan-Bissaka in the same way Telles has done for Shaw.
United signed Telles at the start of last season which undoubtedly sent alarm bells ringing through Shaw's head. The England international subsequently endured the best season of his career which saw Shaw named in the UEFA Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament after he also scooped the Players' Player of the Year at club level.
On the eve of his 26th birthday Shaw scored England's opener inside two minutes versus Italy in the Euro Final, and he also notched three assists throughout the tournament.
A handful of younger senior players have been sent out on loan in the build-up to the season, including the likes of Chong (Birmingham), Pellistri (Alaves) and Axel Tuanzebe (Aston Villa).
Ethan Laird is nearing a temporary switch to Swansea, whilst Elanga, Brandon Wiiams, Jimmy Garner and several others could yet still secure loan moves in the coming days or weeks.