Manchester United pre-season guide
The time for excuses is over for José Mourinho. Last season’s 6th place finish would have been disastrous had it not been for their EFL Cup and Europa League double, the latter of which secured a precious slot in the Champions League group stages and now, having spent approximately £295 million since his arrival, Mourinho’s squad must be title contenders.
The twenty-times PL champions have not tasted league glory since the departure of Sir Alex in 2012/13 – Fans will now demand much better of a sixth place finish, 24 points off the top; they have bided their time enough.
Happily for them, United’s strengthened squad’s impressive pre-season positions them well for the upcoming campaign, where they have just two encounters with Top Six teams in their first ten outings. Mourinho, who has already ranked his side as outsiders for the title (he branded Spurs with the favourites tag), can’t truly believe that he isn’t the manager of one of the world’s strongest teams who should be in the mix for success at home and in Europe. Can he continue his unique “Second Season Syndrome” which has seen him win the title in his second year of all his managerial jobs thus far – Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real, and Chelsea the second?
West Ham United (H)
Swansea City (A)
Leicester City (H)
Stoke City (A)
Crystal Palace (H)
Huddersfield Town (A)
Tottenham Hotspur (H)
United have a major advantage over their title rivals with such an easy run. The Red Devils have the fantastic opportunity to build momentum and confidence before facing a top team and crucially, before they begin their Champions League commitments.
Manchester United 5-2 LA Galaxy
Manchester United 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Manchester United 2-0 Manchester City
Manchester United 1-1 (2-1 pen) Real Madrid
Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona
Classic Mourinho: “I think it would be very bad for us to leave the US without a defeat against teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and City. It would be very bad to leave just with victories.”
Manchester United 3-0 Valerenga
Manchester United 2-1 Sampdoria
European Super Cup
Manchester United 1 - 2 Real Madrid
Goal (assist): Romelu Lukaku (Matic)
This gem summarising Man Utd's pre-season was put on /r/RedDevils by /u/singeroil
Only nailed on starter? Blind!!
Mkhi > Pogba? pic.twitter.com/f6RdxuAGCY
— #FPL Stag (@FPLStag) August 3, 2017
What to expect?
At times last season, United verged on the absurd, dominating possession, creating chances, rarely losing, though rarely winning either. 15 draws, 10 of which came at home and just 54 league goals, less than Bournemouth, meant that The Theatre of Dreams was truthfully rechristened the Stadium of Yawns by many fans. Results like these must be shoved into the past: 1-1 Stoke, 0-0 Burnley, 1-1 West Ham, 0-0 Hull, 1-1 Bournemouth, 0-0 West Brom, and 1-1 Swansea. Mourinho’s objective has to be to get his side scoring more goals – the results will surely follow.
United’s summer transfers should do that. United will no longer be overly reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their open play and to get on the scoresheet. Mourinho built his side around the Swede and he delivered, scoring 17 league goals, 28 in all competitions. However, the Swede’s goals made up 31% of his side’s total tally and when he failed to fire, they did. His shot conversion rate was down 10% compared to his final season at PSG and 5.5% on his five season average last season. He missed more “big chances” (18) than any other player in the PL according to Opta. It wasn’t as if United couldn’t create enough chances either – they were fourth for shots in the league with 591 but eighth for goals scored. Lukaku, who scored 20 of his 25 league goals against bottom half clubs last season, should answer United’s prayers.
Furthermore, the arrival of Matic should unlock Pogba to venture forward more often and Lindelof’s signing means that United should never go through an injury crisis of tectonic proportions at the back this term.
Mourinho has favoured two formations: 4231 and 433, the latter of which he used in the European Super Cup against Real Madrid. Both formations manifest on the pitch in a classic Mourinho fashion – the defence sits back and absorbs pressure so that United can break with pace on the counter. Ya, don’t expect Mourinho’s players to serenely pour forward with abandon this term either.
Broadly the 4231 becomes a 325 (maybe even 3232) formation when United win the ball and begin their high-tempo transition up the pitch. Valencia flies forward on the right while the left-back, usually Blind, drifts in to form a solid three-man defence – remember, Mourinho avoids conceding first and looks to score second. Further up, Pogba is unleashed into the hole alongside Valencia and the left winger, someone like Lingard and the original right-wing, possibly Rashford or Mkhitaryan, tucks in beside Lukaku to get in a goal scoring position. Herrera and Matic shield the three men at the back. This tactic helped demolish Man City in pre-season and couldn’t have operated with the sluggish veteran Ibrahimovic leading the line as it requires too much mobility.
When United play 433, the attack looked more like a 4231. This is obviously a slightly more defensive formation which should see action in big league games and Champions League ties. It’s Mourinho’s preferred formation in my opinion as it recreates the Juve midfield in which Pogba prospered, while still giving The Red Devils defensive stability.
The diminutive 5’9” (almost 192 cm) Mourinho has also stamped his seal on United’s transfer policy by beefing up United’s physical presence. His spine of Lindelof (6’2”), Pogba (6’3”), Matic (6’4”), and Lukaku (6’3”) is gigantic. Mourinho has quickly transformed Van Gaal’s average height United, who were the PL’s 7th tallest side, into the league’s second biggest (average 6’1”), just millimetres less than Tony Pulis’ West Brom and a little bigger than Crystal Palace in third. That means United should pose a much greater threat from set-pieces this term and they have little excuse for losing many aerial duels against the Premier League’s weaker “hoof and hope” sides.
15. MANCHESTER UNITED
— #FPL Stag (@FPLStag) August 9, 2017
Players to watch
David De Gea (5.5)
David de Gea is brilliant – United’s number one by a stretch though he will perhaps be benched in European ties if an agreement similar to last season is brokered with Romero – good news for Fantasy PL players regardless. While United had their woes in front of goal last term, their defence was solid in spite of various traumas afflicting nearly all their men. They had the second best defence in the league, conceding just three more that Tottenham who left in 26. United will hope to match or better their tied-best 17 clean sheets from last season, with De Gea picking up 4 points every time in both PL.com formats. DDG may be the safest route into United’s defence and should certainly be considered for teams, especially those planning to wildcard early.
Regardless, it’s almost compulsory to choose a United defender/goalkeeper in the salary-cap game. De Gea will, based on figures days before the season kicks off, be the starting ‘keeper for about 30% of teams in GW1 while between 8% and 10% of sides will feature at least one of Valencia, Bailly and Lindelof. Unless you’re quite fortunate, you will be left behind if you don’t have cover.
Romero and Pereira would provide solid cover if an accident befalls United’s Spanish shot-stopper.
Antonio Valencia 6.5
The 32 year-old’s price hike to 6.5 means that many will see the Ecuadorian as too pricey this term. His price was inflated off the back of being part of a dozen of United’s 17 clean sheets and adding a further goal and three assists to his tally across the season. He was awarded just nine bonus points.
While a great defender and good crosser, it seems to me that Valencia is just too expensive. 6.5 for a defender who wasn’t even ranked in the top 50 for defenders for shots on goal last season (he had just nine attempts) and who was ranked just 9th for key passes on 29. Some may shout “But he just played 28 matches, Stag!” but they’d be wrong too. When you sort the key passes table to per 90 for defenders who made more than 10 appearances on Squawka, Valencia ascends to merely 15th with 1.05 passes per game.
Eric Bailly 6.0
With Bailly in the team, United looked very solid defensively, securing clean sheets in 13 of his 22 league games where he played 60+ minutes. Yes, that includes his truly magnificent shutout when he played less than 60 minutes against Swansea but took his merry time getting off the pitch…
Furthermore, the Ivorian was a beast in his defensive actions for the side, meaning that he hoovered up bonus points at a fantastic rate – he was awarded 14 in total. He was the club’s best for interceptions per game (all ranks for players to play 10+ in league) with 2.75, second for blocks with 0.72 and he was a good contributor in clearances though not incredible. He was also second amongst United defenders for tackles and third for aerial duels behind Rojo and Jones. While posing little threat in attack, even from set-pieces, Bailly is good value for money.
Victor Lindelof 5.5
The new arrival’s budget price tag has resulted in a lot of interest in the Swede amongst the fantasy football community. Lindelof is expected to be a starter for United in the league this term alongside Bailly in spite of a few mistakes in pre-season, though rotation for the Champions League may cast doubts over his reliability later. I’ve seen some tip the former Benfica man to be a set-piece danger, though he only scored twice in the Portuguese league in 72 appearances. If you just want clean sheets and Manchester United cover, Lindelof may be your man, though I personally am steering clear in favour of DDG.
Other Options in Defence
Daley Blind was the only United player to start all six games of their pre-season tour and seemed surprisingly nailed on until his omission from the starting eleven for the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid. Mourinho had stuck with him through a few shaky pre-season performances by then so it seemed like a curious time to give Darmian the nod. Given the three day lay-off before United’s first PL game, it’s now likely the Dutchman will start and he should take corners when he is on the pitch. With plenty of heads in the clouds, Blind in a starting nailed-on starting role would be delightful.
If United adopted a three man defence, Blind would be United’s third CB as he is a good ball-player. The left-back would be Matteo Darmian, who took his opportunity with both hands when it came towards the end of 2016/17 while Blind was in the centre, even starting the Europa League Final.
Jones, Rojo (injured until Christmas), and Smalling will all be part of a great rotation scheme in the middle of defence. Jones and Rojo proved to be an unexpectedly effective combo when United’s numbers ran thin last season, while Smalling suffered public criticism and doubt before finally getting a chance of his own. I personally hope to Luke Shaw get a run in the side when his foot heals, though he and Mourinho’s relationship is baffling.
While Mkhi is not guaranteed of a starting spot, especially if United line-up in a 433, the Armenian has been getting a lot of attention of late. With a few months rest, his manager’s appreciation of his talents now assured, and a few pre-season goals, eyes are widening with glee at an 8.0 price tag for the 2015/16 Bundesliga player of the season even though his PL appearances left a lot to be desired last season. Instead, it was his hard work on the training ground and European heroics (6 goals in 10 games) which won him the praise of Mourinho, who had initially exiled him after a poor performance in September’s Manchester Derby.
A solid option for your team though shrouded in week-to-week uncertainty.
Paul Pogba 8.0
Pogba, having arrived as United’s marquee signing of last summer and the world’s most expensive player quite simply cannot be dropped – at least not early in the season when United have no other competitions to worry about. There is great hope for Pogba to shine in a role further up the pitch now that Matic has arrived to relieve him of his defensive duties.
Pogba struggled as one of two men at the base of midfield and similarly couldn’t conduct a game from the Number 10 role when deployed there. Now, he should be free to sit in his preferred role on the left of a central midfield trio or ahead of the holding midfielders but not a traditional 10 in the 4231.
23.1% of managers currently have belief in Pogba, personally I would still choose Mkhi over him until Pogba gives us reason to believe he can match his production in Serie A in his final season at Juve – Played 35, Scored 8, Assisted 13.
Juan Mata 7.0
If Mata was guaranteed starts in the PL, I would 100% get him – though unfortunately he is not. 6 goals and 3 assists made Mata United’s second highest goalscorer last season, again illustrating the reliance on Ibra, in spite of getting limited minutes and suffering a few injuries.
I expect Mata to rotate with Mkhi for the right-wing slot in a 4231 or 433, with the latter being Mou’s preferred. If Mkhi suffers an injury, Mata, my favourite United player, will be directly in my team for a bargain price.
Other Midfield Options
Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic will start by default when at all possible. Matic is Mourinho’s man and Herrera is the colonel who carries out his orders to the highest degree on the pitch. I’d love to see Herrera getting forward more with Matic holding back, but I’m not sure we can rely on that happening often enough to use up one of three United slots on him. Matic himself was surprisingly productive last season when he got eight assists – that’s not going to happen again.
Anthony Martial is an overpriced wizard. Hopefully Mourinho gives him a good chance to build up confidence on the left wing, perhaps starting him there. However, Jesse Lingard looks to be ahead of him in the pecking order right now. No more than Herrera, Lingard is a Mourinho-favourite that works incredibly hard for the team. However, the Englishman has historically proven to be a poor finisher and thus shouldn’t be considered for GW1.
Fellaini will act as an impact sub, as he did to great effect in the Super Cup. He gives United an ability to go direct which none of their other colossuses can match. Again, not a fantasy option in any format due to limited minutes and poor discipline. Carrick, the injured Ashley Young and the youngsters will get limited game time. As captain, Carrick may get PL games ahead of European matchdays and Young will figure when he’s fit, potentially as a left-back or left wing-back.
Romelu Lukaku 11.5
Lukaku, a £75 million arrival from Everton, is Manchester United’s first choice starter – that alone should tempt you. His height and strength make him a perfect fit for Mourinho’s system where he will figure as a lone striker in a 4231 or quite isolated in a 4231 though his mobility allow Mourinho to unleash counter-attacks which could never been seen with Ibra leading the line.
Zlatan, who Lukaku outscoured by 8 last season in the PL, actually had more attempts on goal than the Belgian last season even though he played far fewer matches (115:110) so Ibra’s conversion rate of 14.8% was considerably poorer than Lukaku’s 22.7%. Interestingly, Lukaku’s poacher instincts were much better than the man he’s replacing, scoring 24 times in the box compared to Ibra’s 13 off the same number of shots in the area – 80.
Zlatan, who earned five assists, was much better at creating chances for his teammates, providing one more key pass (41) than the Belgian, earning 5 assists in the process while Lukaku notched up 6 assists having played 824 minutes more. Lukaku must improve on this if the likes of Mkhi, Mata and Rashford are to benefit from his presence by finding the net themselves. Otherwise, United may find themselves with high dependency on one striker all over again.
Regardless, the Belgian who was second for the golden boot last season at Everton has to be in your GW1 team. 48.6% of teams will have Lukaku starting and your rank will be decimated when he inevitably finds the net if you opt against him, having got his eye in already in pre-season.
Marcus Rashford 7.5
When United turned out in a 352 formation during pre-season, many rejoiced that England’s start youngster was going to be accommodated in United’s starting eleven this season. Their hopes were soon dashed in the first competitive game of the season, when Rashford sat on the bench for the Super Cup.
Clearly, he has an abundance of talent. Clearly, Mourinho should pick him every week. Clearly, his arrival onto the pitch during the Super Cup heralded an improvement in United’s play. Clearly, he’s a deadly finisher. Unfortunately, it seems Mou just won’t heed the signs yet. Keep an eye on United’s tactical development as the season progresses. Perhaps Rashford will begin to prosper on the wing or perhaps Mou will have him partner Lukaku up front at times – The Belgian was almost completely isolated during the Super Cup and struggled to make an impact on the game. However for now, avoid picking up the player in the salary cap gamr although he could be a great late pick in a draft.
For me, DDG and Lukaku are the best options in the United team. I believe that the former is the best path into United’s must-have defence, while I believe Lukaku is essential for all teams. In midfield, much as I believe in Mourinho to help Pogba put in top performances, I just can’t justify selecting him in GW1, though I’ll acquire him in a wildcard if needs be. I’m starting to feel that the same could be said for Mkhitaryan too, although he was initially one of the first names in my squad owing to his pre-season form.
I’ll be keeping my eye on Mata, Rashford and Martial to see if they begin to get consistent PL starts. All of those players have proven themselves to be golden FPL assets when they’ve had ample time to build confidence and score goals.
Thanks for reading.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.
Who else is going to make Christmas Island their #FPL nation this season?
RT to help ensure the community comes together in one place! pic.twitter.com/K7DmWYx9ER
— #FPL Stag (@FPLStag) July 8, 2017